Data Breach in Healthcare - Regulations and Security Measures

 The healthcare business presents a number of challenges when it comes to the protection of data. Protecting patient privacy while also providing quality patient care and adhering to the stringent regulatory requirements established by HIPAA and other regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation enacted by the European Union, is a difficult balancing act that healthcare providers and their business associates are required to perform (GDPR). Because protected health information (PHI) is among an individual's most sensitive (and for criminals, valuable) private data, the guidelines for healthcare providers and other organizations that handle, use, or transmit patient information include stringent data protection requirements that are accompanied by hefty penalties and fines if they are not met. This is because PHI is among an individual's most sensitive (and for criminals, valuable) private data.

Data Breach in Healthcare - Regulations and Security Measures

HIPAA requires covered entities to ensure that patient information is secure, accessible only by authorized persons, and used only for authorized purposes; however, it is up to each covered entity to determine what security measures to employ in order to achieve these objectives. Rather than mandating the use of specific technologies, HIPAA requires covered entities to ensure that patient information is secure.

As a result of increasing regulatory requirements for the protection of healthcare data, healthcare organizations that take a proactive approach to implementing best practices for healthcare security are best equipped for continued compliance and at a lower risk of suffering costly data breaches. This is because regulatory requirements for the protection of healthcare data are increasing. In this article, we will go through the ten best practices for the security of patient data that healthcare companies may implement, including the following:

Let's take a look at the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and the ways in which these 10 best practices may assist healthcare businesses in being compliant while also securing sensitive health information.

The HIPAA Regulations Concerning Privacy and Security

Although other rules, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), have an effect on worldwide operations, the HIPAA requirements have the greatest influence on healthcare providers in the United States. It is the responsibility of healthcare providers and business partners to ensure that they are current on the most recent requirements and to choose suppliers and business associates who are also in compliance with these standards. The following are the two most important aspects of HIPAA that are relevant to the safeguarding of healthcare information:

The HIPAA Security Rule focuses on safeguarding the production, use, receipt, and maintenance of electronic personal health information by HIPAA-covered entities. This includes ensuring that the information is not compromised in any way. The Administrative, Physical, and Technical Safeguards for Protecting Individual Health Information are Detailed in the Security Rule.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule mandates the implementation of procedures designed to ensure the confidentiality of patients' personal health information, which may include insurance and medical record data, as well as other sensitive information. The Privacy Rule places restrictions on the types of information that may be utilized, as well as how they can be used, and given to third parties without the prior consent of the patient.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule is primarily concerned with operational matters. Its purpose is to prohibit healthcare providers and their business associates from using a patient's protected health information (PHI) in a manner that was not previously agreed upon by the patient. Additionally, it places restrictions on the information that may be disclosed to third parties without the patient's prior authorization. The HIPAA Security Rule focuses primarily on the technological elements of protecting personal health information. It also establishes rules and regulations for how health information should be safeguarded, with the goal of ensuring that healthcare data is both accurate and secret.

An increase in the use of electronic health records raises the risk level in healthcare and the possibility of data breaches.

According to research that was conducted and released in 2016 by the Ponemon Institute, the number of healthcare data breaches caused by criminal activities has surged by 125% since 2010 and is currently the main cause of such breaches. In addition to this, the majority of healthcare companies are not adequately equipped to safeguard patient information against an ever-evolving panorama of potential security risks.

In a survey conducted by Ponemon, 91 HIPAA-covered entities and 84 business associates (vendors and other organizations that handle patient data) were asked about their experiences with healthcare data breaches. The survey found that 89% of respondents had been victims of such breaches, and that criminal activity was responsible for 50% of those breaches. The majority of data breaches were quite minor, affecting less than 500 patient records apiece, but several were extremely significant and expensive. The average cost of a healthcare data breach that occurred between 2014 and 2015 and affected a healthcare institution was $2.2 million, while the average cost of a breach that occurred between 2014 and 2015 and affected business associates was over $1 million.

Healthcare companies and their business partners need to employ stringent security measures to safeguard patient data from a growing number and diversity of threats in order to appropriately secure data from hackers. Despite the fact that vulnerabilities in wireless networks, for example, provide an easy entry point for hackers, these networks are of critical importance to healthcare organizations because they make it easier to access patient information and optimize the delivery of care. Hackers could potentially exploit these vulnerabilities.

How to Keep Patient Information Secure

These best practices for healthcare cybersecurity attempt to keep pace with the ever-changing threat environment, addressing risks to privacy and data protection on endpoints and in the cloud, and protecting data while it is in transit, while it is at rest, and while it is being used. Because of this, we need to take a complex and multi-pronged strategy to ensuring safety.

1. Provide Training for Medical Personnel

The human factor continues to represent one of the most significant security risks across all sectors, but this is especially true in the healthcare sector. Simple acts of neglect or mistake on the part of humans may have catastrophic and prohibitively costly results for healthcare institutions. Employees in the healthcare industry benefit from receiving security awareness training because it provides them with the information they need to make informed choices and exercise the right level of caution while handling patient data.

2. Limit Who Can View What in the Databases and Applications

By limiting access to patient information and particular apps to just those users who are required to have it in order to do their tasks, implementing access controls strengthens the security of patient data in the healthcare industry. The authentication of users is required for access limitations, which helps to ensure that only authorized users may see protected data. A technique known as multi-factor authentication, which requires users to authenticate that they are, in fact, the person allowed to access particular data and apps by using two or more validation methods including the following, is suggested as a solution.

  • Details that are solely known to the user, such as a password or a personal identification number (PIN),
  • Something that would only be in the possession of the authorized person, such a card or key, for example
  • Something that is specific to the authorized user, such a biometric, for example (facial recognition, fingerprints, eye scanning)

3. Implement Data Usage Controls

Protective data controls go beyond the advantages of access restrictions and monitoring to guarantee that hazardous or malicious data activity can be detected and/or prevented in real time. These controls ensure that risky or malicious data activity can be identified and/or prohibited. Data controls allow healthcare companies to prevent certain activities involving sensitive data, such as online uploads, unauthorized email sends, copying to external drives, or printing. Other examples of data-related operations that may be blocked include: Data discovery and classification play a key supporting function in this process by ensuring that sensitive data can be found and tagged so that it can get the appropriate degree of security. This role ensures that this process can be carried out successfully.

4. Record and Keep Track of Use

It is also essential to log all data pertaining to access and use. This gives service providers and business companions the ability to monitor which users access what information, apps, and other resources, when they do so, and from what devices and locations. Where used for auditing purposes, these logs are very useful since they enable businesses to identify areas of potential concern and, when appropriate, reinforce preventive mechanisms. In the event that an incident takes place, an audit trail may make it possible for businesses to locate specific entry points, identify the root cause, and assess the level of damage.

5. Encrypt Data Both While It Is At Rest and While It Is in Transit

One of the most helpful strategies for the protection of sensitive data for healthcare businesses is encryption. Even if they are able to access the data, attackers will have a far more difficult time, and in an ideal world, will not be able to interpret patient information if healthcare providers and business partners encrypt data both while it is in transit and while it is at rest. It is up to healthcare providers and business associates to determine what encryption methods and other measures are necessary or appropriate given the workflow and other needs of the organization. HIPAA provides recommendations, but it does not specifically require healthcare organizations to implement data encryption measures. Instead, HIPAA offers recommendations on how data encryption should be implemented.

According to the HHS HIPAA Security Series, Health IT Security provides the two most important questions that healthcare companies should consider in order to determine an acceptable amount of encryption and when encryption is required. These questions are as follows:

What kinds of data have to be encrypted and decoded in order to stop unwanted access to electronic personally identifiable information (either by unauthorized people or by applications)?

In order to prevent unauthorized individuals and apps from having access to sensitive health information, what techniques of decryption and encryption are required, reasonable, and acceptable in this context?

6. Secure Mobile Devices

It is becoming increasingly common for healthcare providers and covered entities to make use of mobile devices in the course of conducting business. This may take the form of a doctor using a smartphone to access information that will assist them in the treatment of a patient or an administrative worker processing insurance claims. Just ensuring the safety of mobile devices requires a wide range of precautions, including the following:

  • controlling all of the devices, their settings, and their configurations
  • Implementing strict requirements for the use of passwords
  • Providing the ability to remotely delete data and lock devices in the event that they are misplaced or stolen
  • Encrypting data for the application
  • Monitoring email accounts and attachments to protect against the spread of viruses and the theft of confidential information without authorization
  • Educating consumers on the most effective methods for protecting mobile devices
  • Implementing rules or policies on whitelisting to guarantee that only programs that fulfill pre-defined criteria or have been pre-vetted may be installed on a device.
  • Demanding on users that they maintain their devices up to date with the most recent versions of the operating system and applications
  • requiring the use of mobile device management solutions and other forms of mobile security software to be installed on mobile devices

7. Reduce the Dangers Presented by Connected Devices

It's likely that when you think of mobile devices, the first things that come to mind are tablets and smartphones. However, as a result of the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT), linked devices are now available in a wide variety of configurations. Everything from medical equipment like blood pressure monitors to the cameras used to monitor physical security on the premises may be linked to a network in the area of healthcare. One example of a medical gadget is a blood pressure monitor. In order to maintain acceptable levels of security on linked devices:

  • Keep Internet of Things devices on their own independent network.
  • Maintain constant surveillance of IoT device networks in order to detect sudden shifts in activity levels, which may indicate a security breach.
  • Before using devices, make sure that non-essential services are turned off or removed entirely, and then use the devices.
  • Always opt for a robust authentication method that requires multiple factors.
  • Make sure that all of the connected devices have the most recent updates so that all of the patches can be applied.

8. Carry out risk assessments on a consistent basis.

Even though having an audit trail helps to determine the cause of an incident and other important details after it has occurred, the most important thing that can be done is to take preventative measures. Regular risk assessments can identify vulnerabilities or weak points in the security of a healthcare organization, as well as gaps in employee education, inadequacies in the security posture of vendors and business associates, and other areas of concern that need to be addressed. Healthcare providers and their business associates can better avoid costly data breaches and the many other detrimental impacts of a data breach, including reputation damage and penalties from regulatory agencies, by evaluating risk across an entire healthcare organization on a periodic basis in order to proactively identify and mitigate potential risks. This allows healthcare providers to avoid costly data breaches and the many other detrimental impacts of a data breach.

9. Ensure that your data is backed up in a safe and remote location.

Ransomware is a good example of the impact that cyberattacks like this can have. Cyberattacks can not only expose sensitive patient information, but they can also compromise the data's integrity or availability. If a healthcare organization's data center is not adequately backed up, even a natural disaster that strikes the area could have catastrophic effects on the organization's patients. Because of this, it is recommended to perform frequent backups of data offsite, with stringent controls for data encryption and access, as well as other recommended best practices, to ensure the safety of data backups. Data backups stored away from the original location are also an essential component of disaster recovery.

10. Perform a Meticulous Audit of the Safety and Compliance Measures Taken by Business Associates

Because of the growing trend toward the transmission of healthcare information between providers and among covered entities for the purposes of facilitating payments and delivering care, one of the most crucial security measures that healthcare organizations can take is a careful evaluation of all potential business associates. The HIPAA Omnibus Rule improved previous guidelines by strengthening them and elaborating on definitions of business associates. As a result, it provided better direction regarding the types of relationships for which contracts are necessary. This information is summarized in the HIPAA Survival Guide, which includes the following clarifications and changes:

Organizations that only transmit protected health information (PHI) but do not maintain or store the data are eligible for the conduit exception. Organizations that merely transmit data are not regarded as business associates, whereas organizations that maintain and store protected health information (PHI) are regarded as business associates.

When used to store personally identifiable information (PHI), applications and services provided by a third party, such as Google Apps, are considered to be business associates. In situations like these, the service provided by the third party would be regarded as a business associate; consequently, a contract would be needed to govern the relationship. According to the HIPAA Survival Guide, there has been an increase in the number of organizations that are moving their operations to the cloud. These organizations should be aware of any and all circumstances that could classify a vendor as a business associate, as well as the likelihood that such vendors will enter into the required contract.

Any subcontractors that create or maintain protected health information (PHI) are subject to the regulations governing compliance. This one modification has the potential to have a significant domino effect, and it should be given careful consideration by all healthcare organizations.

Every single covered entity is required to have "sufficient assurances" from every single vendor, partner, and subcontractor that the protected health information (PHI) would be securely safeguarded. Wherever protected health information (PHI) goes, liability will follow it.

There are, however, a few notable exceptions. According to the HIPAA Survival Guide, "in general, a person or entity is a Business Associate only in cases where the person or entity is conducting a function or activity regulated by the HIPAA Rules on behalf of a Covered Entity, such as payment or healthcare operations; therefore, a researcher is NOT automatically a Business Associate of a Covered Entity, despite the fact that it may be using the Covered Entity's Protected Health Information." This means that a

The previous clarifications make it abundantly clear that the privacy and security requirements for HIPAA compliance are dependent not only on the activities carried out by a healthcare organization itself, but also on any ancillary organizations that it conducts business with and any third-party services that it utilizes. This is the case regardless of whether the organization in question is a business associate or not. To put it another way, an organization's ability to demonstrate compliance is heavily dependent on its capacity to select and collaborate with third-party vendors who engage in similarly stringent healthcare data protection measures. In addition, healthcare organizations that take data protection seriously should be aware that while HIPAA and other regulatory compliance initiatives are a good starting place for building a data protection program and avoiding costly penalties, efforts should go beyond compliance to ensure that sensitive data is protected against the threats that exist today.

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