By Keith Millett | Jun 20, 2018 | Blog

Healthcare organizations live and breathe the rules of HIPAA, legislation intended to protect patients and their sensitive information. Unfortunately, HIPAA compliance is only the beginning of a comprehensive (and complicated) cybersecurity strategy that reduces the risk of data breaches—and it fails to explicitly guide healthcare organizations on how to handle protected health information (PHI) and stay ahead of any potential risks.

Given the rise of data breaches in the United States, how can a healthcare organization understand its level of risk and build a comprehensive security program that will shield e-PHI from hackers?

Begin with a Risk Assessment

Risk assessments are a critical part of a proactive and comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. These assessments provide your organization with a baseline and inventory of your network risk so you know exactly what steps need to be taken next in order to bring your organization up to an acceptable level of risk. Risk assessments provide a 360-degree view of your organization from a hacker’s perspective so you know how to button up any vulnerabilities.

Risk assessments should be conducted on an ongoing basis, especially as your organization continues to accumulate sensitive data (and as technologies evolve). Consider the many “on-ramps” that hackers can use to access your network: desktop computers, mobile devices, and even innocuous devices like printers or copiers. The explosive growth of IoT devices and wearable technology opens the door to new and serious data security vulnerabilities and concerns.

Beyond the security aspect, performing ongoing risk assessments prepares you for the annual HIPAA audit and, if a breach does occur, can save you thousands of dollars in penalties and recovery costs.

Develop Policies and Procedures to Ensure HIPAA Compliance

Even with top-tier security measures implemented, your organization could still have an insidious threat: uninformed employees. When it comes to HIPAA compliance, ignorance is the worst vulnerability—so all employees need to be familiar with the policies and procedures regarding cybersecurity and the IoT, including how to securely handle e-PHI and physical devices such as their workstations, laptops, tablets, phones, and wearable devices. We recommend periodically quizzing employees on these standards as well as providing ongoing briefings regarding current malware, phishing attacks, or compliance updates.

Create Disaster Recovery Protocols

Should a data breach or other incident occur, your organization needs to have a comprehensive guide on what steps to take next. The goal of disaster recovery is to minimize the damage that has occurred, mitigate any risk while remaining HIPAA compliant, minimize downtime, and protect client data. In this case, if disaster strikes, your organization will not be unprepared and unresponsive—you can get back on your feet and continue to serve and protect your clients as quickly as possible.

Perhaps one of the most essential parts of a disaster recovery plan is data backup and recovery. Offsite and geographically diverse data center locations must be used so that patient data is not completely lost or destroyed in an incident.

Regularly Perform Cybersecurity Audits

Cybersecurity is an ongoing and ever-evolving process. Just because your organization requires access controls, strong passwords, and continuing education doesn’t mean that you’re not at risk of a data breach. As a result, risk assessments should be conducted at least quarterly, and full-scale cybersecurity audits should be performed annually in addition to the HIPAA compliance audit your organization will undergo.

As an IT consulting and solutions organization, CTI deeply understands the importance of cybersecurity and compliance readiness, especially in regard to the IoT. We offer a suite of assessments that mitigates your organization’s level of risk. For example, a SHIELD Compliance assessment will provide customers in the medical and healthcare industry with the ability to analyze their security environment for control strength and effectiveness, compare their overall posture to requirements outlined in the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules, establish a baseline, and develop a roadmap for future IT efforts and investments.

Whether you need a detailed analysis of your present and future IT needs or a higher-level evaluation, we deliver a thorough, insightful appraisal of the actions you need to take to achieve success.

Contact us today for more information about staying ahead of risk in health IT organizations.