Healthcare Cybersecurity 101: Tips to Improve Your Data Protection

August 12, 2019 - 7 minutes read

Healthcare produces tons of private patient data that needs encryption, secure storage, and other ongoing cybersecurity measures to ensure it’s properly protected. And these means of security must cover a variety of attacks that can come in all shapes and sizes.

A data breach in a medical setting could be as big as a hack across cloud systems, or it could even be as small as a secretary peeking into a patient’s file. When it comes to healthcare cybercrimes, clinical staff is, unfortunately, a common culprit; they can share information without permission, access records they’re not supposed to see, and may not practice enough care around patient data. But they’re not the only ones causing problems. When larger-scale health applications are built without cybersecurity as a top priority, thousands of patients become at risk of data theft at once.

With this range of cybersecurity breaches, healthcare is one field in particular that cannot afford to be lax with security and encryption standards. Whether you’re a large hospital in New York City or a device developer in San Francisco, each organization in this industry must prioritize the protection and privacy of patient data. Here are some of our favorite tips to build more robust security protocols.

Cover the Basics With These Best Practices

Change your passwords frequently. Keep different passwords for each website or application that your office uses. Even computers that house the applications and connect to the cloud should also have strong passwords. Do not allow employees to share passwords, and there should be no office-wide password for any computer or application. According to a study of 299 medical professionals and practices, staff used a password that was not their own an average of four times.

Don’t use your personal device(s) to access patient data or information. This increases liability and risk for hacks, and it’s not recommended by healthcare cybersecurity professionals.

Regarding the computers in the front office, place restrictions against social media and outside sites using a strong firewall. These types of sites can introduce the potential of clicking on a risky link, giving hackers a way into your computer. Do not allow staff to transport data or save data to USB drives. All data transfer and transmission should be done securely, leaving no risk of a USB drive ending up in the wrong hands.

Train Your Office Staff and Control Access

Educating staff on how to handle data and the importance of not violating a patient’s privacy can greatly reduce cybersecurity risks. Negligence, misuse, and abuse often occur as a result of lack of knowledge. This includes leaving information on a post-it note or on a monitor that’s visible to other staff and patients. Even small bits of information, like a first name or phone number, counts as a security violation.

Train staff to keep an eye on pharmaceutical reps, lab staff, cleaning crews, patients, nurses, and everyone else entering the clinic beyond the front office. There’s nothing wrong with creating benchmarks and performance reports regarding staff security. This aspect of your healthcare business must be stated clearly in yearly evaluations and hiring contracts.

With controlled access, staff can only see what is pertinent to them. Doctors, on the other hand, would have more access to applications and databases. Log every login and logout activity of your staff. Find out what was edited, and viewed, as well as when and by whom. Track time to see who’s spending the most time in which application, and whether or not your employees are spending their time productively.

Take Advantage of the Cloud

The cloud is a modern tool that can save healthcare professionals money and time. It can also serve as a secure place to store all of your data and application information. Backing up the cloud is important, but the cloud software must also remain updated with security patches, encryption measures, and new features.

Because of the cloud’s ability to help you offload your data, you must thoroughly vet the cloud system before you send any patient data through it. Ensure it is secure enough for your healthcare needs, and consult your IT professional about what the industry standard is.

Continually Delete Data

Once the cloud has the data from your practice, feel free to delete the data from any locally-stored places, like computers and USB drives. Don’t forget to make a back-up before deleting your data!

Update your browsers, computer’s operating system, healthcare applications, cloud service, and anything else that continually receives updates to its software.

When permanently removing computers from the office, do not skip any steps: log out of all applications and accounts; delete all files, downloads, previous employee data; ensure you take the computer to an authorized party that will completely wipe and re-wipe the hard drives; dispose of the computer safely.

Proper Cybersecurity Is a Habit, Not an Act

If you’re able to afford an experienced security consultant, bring them on for a few months after you’ve implemented the above steps. This will bring even stronger and tighter security protocols to your practice, which will further reduce time and money spent on encryption, compliance, and cybersecurity.

Having top-notch cybersecurity protocols in place doesn’t depend on any one single act; it’s a habit that requires consistent practice. When both healthcare organizations and the developers behind medical applications work towards achieving this, they can bring more peace of mind and better outcomes to their patients.

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