Healthcare information technology systems are a favorite target for cybercriminals. Protected health information (PHI) contains a wealth of valuable data that can sell for a lot of money on the dark web markets. Another common threat against healthcare services is ransomware, as organizations are more likely to pay ransoms to regain access to their data. On top of that, the sector is often viewed as an easy target with outdated systems and poorly trained employees.
To ensure the safety and privacy of sensitive medical information, the US government enacted the health insurance portability and accountability act (HIPAA) in 1996. However, technology has changed a great deal since then, so IT professionals cannot rely on the legislation itself for detailed technical instructions for implementation. Instead, they must follow standards like those provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
What is a HIPAA certification?
There is no such thing as a formal HIPAA certification for IT professionals, although some third party auditors may be willing to provide proof that your business passed a HIPAA audit. This will let you demonstrate your efforts to achieve compliance to potential and existing clients or patients.
The Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is the federal body responsible for managing and enforcing HIPAA, and they regularly conduct audits to ensure compliance. However, partnering with a compliance expert offers a proactive approach that lets you track progress and identify areas in need of improvement.
Related article: 7 things you need to know about the HIPAA compliance certification
#1. Focus on training for all employees
Employee training is an essential part of the security and privacy process, and it’s also a legal requirement of HIPAA. There are many formal educational resources and training programs that provide HIPAA certification for IT professionals and other experts involved in healthcare. You will also need to document your training programs and create and publish policies which make training a clear priority. You will need to present your training programs to pass an audit.
#2. Choose your security and privacy officer
Every covered entity or business associate must have a dedicated security and privacy officer. This does not have to mean hiring someone specifically for the role, but you will need to have someone responsible for protecting PHI. A security and privacy office will be accountable for meeting the regulations, reviewing business associate agreements, and creating a list of every supplier and vendor that handles PHI on their behalf.
#3. Implement a risk management plan
HIPAA requires organizations to conduct a thorough risk analysis and draw up a risk mitigation plan based on their findings. A risk analysis is a comprehensive evaluation of your network, including all devices and user accounts and communications channels used for work. This will need to be an auditable and documented process that covers all security and privacy policies across the technical, administrative, and physical domains. It should also provide direction on the secure operations of your organization.
#4. Create and review your policies
You will need to create a HIPAA compliance policy that aligns with the requirements enshrined in law, as well as the latest standards of information security and privacy. These policies must also be regularly updated to account for any changes to your technical or operational systems. It’s also essential that you have a way to enforce policies such as, for example, using data loss prevention (DLP) systems to automatically detect and quarantine communications that may constitute a breach of policy.
#5. Conduct an internal IT audit
An internal IT audit serves to evaluate your entire technology infrastructure for any potential vulnerabilities. Common vulnerabilities include outdated security protocols, obsolete hardware and software, deprecated operating systems, and unsecured wireless networks. The audit must also cover any hosted resources you use, such as cloud-based apps and online storage. You can and should consider getting external help for this, since getting an outside view of your systems and infrastructure lends a crucial extra pair of eyes.
Related articles: What is a HIPAA security risk assessment, and who needs one?
#6. Build an internal remediation strategy
Once you’ve carried out a risk assessment and audited your IT systems, you’ll no doubt find areas in need of improvement. Hopefully, there won’t be any critical vulnerabilities but, if there are, it is essential that you prioritize these in your remediation strategy. Be sure to create a realistic and carefully prioritized schedule for your remediation plan. Finally, remember that your compliance efforts need to be regularly tested, reviewed, and updated to accommodate any changes.
Related articles: How Much Can HIPAA Violation Fines Cost Your Business?
Charles IT provides comprehensive HIPAA compliance assessments and security services to protect your organization from data leaks and other cyberthreats. Contact us today to find out more.