Medical practices have a lot to worry about when it comes to data security. Unfortunately, however, many don't realize how intertwined cybersecurity and The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are, and as a result, they end up violating HIPAA without realizing it.
In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of cybersecurity for medical practices and how to maintain HIPAA compliance.
What Does HIPAA Protect?
To understand the importance of cybersecurity in relation to HIPAA, it is crucial to understand what HIPAA protects. HIPAA was enacted in 1996 and is a set of regulations that protect the privacy and security of patient health information.
The Privacy and Security Rules
The Privacy Rule establishes national standards to maintain the privacy of protected health information (PHI), while the Security Rule establishes specific national standards for the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI).
The Privacy Rule has two main objectives:
- To ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect PHI. In order to achieve this, the rule places limits and conditions for the use and disclosure of PHI without a patient's authorization.
- Ensure individuals have access to their PHI as and when they need it. The HIPAA Privacy Rule mandates that patients have the right to request a copy of their PHI from their healthcare provider and receive it in a designated format. Patients can also instruct a HIPAA covered entity to send their PHI to a third party in electronic form or ask them to make corrections where the information is inaccurate.
The Security Rule mandates that HIPAA covered entities and their business associates deploy three types of safeguard to protect ePHI. These are:
- Technical Safeguards: To ensure the electronic and digital security of ePHI. Technical safeguards include things such as password requirements, access controls, audit controls and encryption.
- Administrative Safeguards: These cover how healthcare organizations should manage ePHI. They include risk management and training employees on how to protect patient information.
- Physical safeguards: Physical safeguards concern covers how covered entities protect electronic equipment and information storage facilities.
Common Cybersecurity Violations
With this background, let's examine some common cyber security violations.
- Poor ePHI Access Controls: One of the most common cyber security violations is poor ePHI access controls. When setting up access controls, use the "least privilege" principle, which states that users should only access the information they need to do their jobs.
- Lack of Encryption: Another common cyber security violation is lack of encryption. When data is not encrypted, it can be easily accessed by hackers. This is particularly dangerous for PHI because hackers can use this information for identity theft or other nefarious purposes.
- Improper Disposal of ePHI: Healthcare organizations are required to properly destroy PHI when it is no longer needed. This includes shredding documents and deleting electronic files.
- Emailing ePHI to Personal Email Accounts: This violates the HIPAA Privacy Rule because it increases the risk that PHI will be compromised. If you must email PHI or have authority from the patient to do so, it is vital to use a secure file sharing service that encrypts the data.
- Leaving Computers and Portable Electronic Devices Unattended: This can leave your practice vulnerable to malware attacks and other malicious activities. Staff should lock computers when they leave their desks. It is also good practice to set a lock timer in case they forget.
- Downloading ePHI onto Unauthorized Devices: This violates the HIPAA Security Rule because it increases the risk that PHI will be lost or stolen. If you must download PHI onto a portable device, it is essential to encrypt the data and password protect the device.
- Failure to Perform an Organization-Wide Risk Analysis: This violates the HIPAA Security Rule. A risk analysis is essential for identifying potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of ePHI.
Consequences of Noncompliance
The consequences of noncompliance with HIPAA can be severe. If your practice is found to violate HIPAA, you could be subject to civil or criminal penalties. Penalties depend on the extent and severity of the violation and whether it was a willful or negligent violation, as shown in the image below.
(Image source: HipaaJournal.com)
In addition to penalties, a practice that violates HIPAA can face damage to its reputation. Patients may choose to take their business elsewhere if they feel their privacy has been violated.
The 2021 table of HIPAA fines below demonstrates how the severity of penalties and fines have the potential to bankrupt your practice.
HIPAA Risk Analysis
So, what can you do to protect your practice from violating HIPAA? The first step is to perform an organization-wide risk analysis.
A risk analysis is an essential part of the HIPAA Security Rule. It is a process for identifying and assessing the risks to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of ePHI.
CDS: A HIPAA Compliant Storage & File Sharing Solution
The best way to ensure that you comply with cyber security rules is to use HIPAA-compliant file storage and sharing solutions. Central Data Storage (CDS) is a HIPAA-compliant storage and file-sharing solution that can help your practice ensure the integrity of ePHI.
CDS provides end-to-end encryption, user authentication and role-based access controls to ensure that only authorized users can access PHI. For more information on how CDS can help your practice, sign up for a free trial (no credit card required) or read our cyber security guide.
(Header Image source: pixabay.com)