With increasing numbers of access points to protected health information under attack, the healthcare industry continues to be plagued with damaging breaches.
Not surprisingly, some healthcare organizations have been breached in the last two years and the breaches are growing, with millions of patients and their information at risk. Some healthcare organizations are still woefully unprepared to address the rapidly changing cyber threat environment and lack the resources and processes to protect patient data.
With cyber criminals actively targeting healthcare, threats to patient data have never been greater. However, a cross-industry collaboration of vendors was formed to help expedite the adoption of PHI best practices, plus there are some critical strategies healthcare organizations can employ for protecting patient information.
Probably the best place to start is really to do a risk assessment, it needs to be front and center as the starting place to help decide and prioritize whereófor the most partóa very limited IT security budget might be allocated. What the risk assessment will do is identify those assets and systems where PHI lives.
Specifically, the PHI Protection Network recommends 10 steps necessary to protect patient data:
1. Demand organizational leadership engagement. Workforce training and safeguards alone will not be effective. Organizational leadership must embrace and champion compliance as it would any other component of the organizationís value chain.
2. Find and identify your data. Organizations need to know where their data lives, where it travels, and in what form (encrypted, identified, de-identified, etc.).
3. Control PHI workflow and minimize necessary workforce access. Organizations must find ways to better control PHI workflow within the organization, and movement outside the organization. This not only includes safeguarding it from impermissible uses and disclosures but also will require integration of HIPAA with other health information protection activities to ensure a single point of control within the organization.
4. Assess risks. Organizations must have solid processes in place for assessing risk with new systems, devices, services, and partners, and determine how best to use their power as purchasers to weed out those that donít meet best security practices.
5. Prioritize third-party vendor management. Organizations will need help with third-party vendor management to strengthen oversight and review processes. Smaller business associates are particularly vulnerable since they may not have as many resources to devote to security and compliance and may be more likely to experience a data breach.
6. Get proactive. The healthcare industry needs to take a proactive stance when it comes to regulations to protect patient health info. Companies that go above and beyond baseline protection requirements will be seen as industry leaders, and patients will choose to use their services over others.
7. Make privacy an integral part of new technology adoption. The pace at which new technology is being introduced into the healthcare industry is increasing, with thousands of new health-related mobile applications available this year, including devices such as Apple Watch and the Internet of Things. But we have little evidence that patient privacy or security features are being considered. The healthcare industry and its technology service providers need to take advantage of existing technology as well as how they design, construct, and deliver new tools.
8. Measure to Improve. You canít manage what you canít measure. The healthcare industry needs to get better at determining key metrics to continuously measure and improve security posture.
9. Look for ďnon-standardĒ systems as potential PHI data stores. Voicemail systems, customer service call recording systems, and closed-circuit television systems could all potentially be storing PHI but may not be as carefully safeguarded as traditional IT systems such as EHRs and patient billing.
10. Instill a culture of security. Every employee is a guardian of the customerís data.
Although employee negligence and lost/stolen devices continue to be primary causes of data breaches.
While criminal attacks are often referred to as cyber-attacks, they can also include malicious insider threats.
Instead of trying to protect everything from everyone, the next step is really trying to better understand what the criminals are doing right now to get access to the data and whatís causing the breaches in the type of organization youíre trying to protect.
Incidents healthcare organizations have experienced are almost all related to the intentional exploitation of technical systems. These are not accidental missteps resulting in data loss, with 78 percent of survey respondents experiencing Web-borne malware attacks, 38 percent citing SQL Injection incidents, and 88 percent suffering from spear phishing.