The healthcare industry is the biggest target for cyberattacks because protected health information (PHI), which healthcare organizations handle on a daily basis, is extremely valuable. According to recent reports, the healthcare industry accounted for 79% of all reported breaches in 2020, with botnets, distributed denial-of-service attacks, and ransomware being the most common cyberthreats.
Healthcare practices face increasingly greater pressure to provide excellent quality care and comply with the stringent data privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). But don’t fret — your healthcare practice can avoid violating rules and having to pay fines by keeping these HIPAA compliance tips in mind.
1. Have a Trustworthy Healthcare Compliance Team
Remaining HIPAA compliant covers a lot of ground, so enlist the expertise of professionals whose sole responsibility revolves around ensuring HIPAA compliance for covered entities. You need a team of healthcare IT professionals, which may comprise HIPAA compliance auditors who can perform an initial risk analysis and create a strategy on ensuring PHI privacy and security.
You also need healthcare industry lawyers who are knowledgeable in HIPAA compliance and state privacy laws and adept at handling health information privacy and security concerns. Healthcare compliance attorneys and/or HIPAA compliance auditors can assist you in developing existing compliance-related policies and procedures, and guide you through HIPAA compliance challenges that may occur.
2. Conduct Risk Assessments Regularly
One of the most important requirements of the Security Rule is to identify areas where organizations’ PHI could be at risk. This is why healthcare practices should regularly conduct risk assessments that will cover all bases regarding HIPAA’s administrative, physical, and assessment protection requirements. It’s best to consult a third-party auditing team composed of compliance experts and IT engineers who can identify your practice’s security risks and network vulnerabilities.
Here are some useful resources that can help:
- A comprehensive guide on conducting security risk assessments
- The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) guidelines on how a risk assessment can benefit organizations
3. Perform Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Scans
HIPAA does not require penetration testing or vulnerability scans, but regularly conducting them is nevertheless crucial to compliance.
The primary goal of penetration testing is to discover ways to bypass your systems’ entry points and see if it’s possible to break into them. Penetration testing is the recommended method to understand the risks to an organization’s PHI, per HIPAA’s technical evaluation requirements. Meanwhile, vulnerability scans are done to check systems for common vulnerabilities that may have been caused by frequent changes in applications or firewall configurations. Conducting penetration testing and vulnerability scans is vital in determining whether organizations’ security efforts are effective.
Consult your practice’s HIPAA compliance experts or independent auditors about performing monthly or quarterly tests and scans. They should be able to provide you with comprehensive reports about how effective your security measures are in protecting PHI and how you can strengthen them.
4. Ensure Remote Workspaces Are Compliant
The shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in operational and compliance-related difficulties. And although the OCR has temporarily suspended penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA rules regarding telehealth communications, compliance difficulties persist. Moreover, hospitals and small- and medium-sized healthcare practices remain an attractive target for hackers.
Healthcare organizations can gear up against cyberattacks by setting up secure remote workspaces for staff. Enforce the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) across all devices, and make sure that the latest software patches are installed as soon as these become available.
Security teams should also be ready to tackle more tasks such as improving incident response methods, reviewing logs, and detecting attacks. They must also enable multi factor authentication on employee devices and accounts as phishing scams tend to be more rampant and targeted toward remote workforces.
5. Conduct Cybersecurity Awareness Training for Staff
Every employee needs to undergo HIPAA security awareness training to prevent violations. They must be trained on basic cybersecurity awareness topics, including identifying phishing scams, creating strong passwords, observing physical security measures, and dealing with a potential breach, to name a few. Training modules must be based on situational, real-life scenarios, and need to be engaging, interactive, and most importantly, up to date.
Employees are at the front lines of your security efforts, which is why educating them about cybersecurity is essential to complying with HIPAA regulations.
Charles IT can perform HIPAA compliance assessments that will help improve your organization’s security posture. We’ll ensure you’re always free from liabilities — get in touch with our team today.