Protecting Patient Data Against Data Breaches

 In PHI, Security

While digital technology is a useful tool for all industries, the risk of data theft is higher than ever. Hackers can find loopholes and ways to compromise systems – to steal private information. In the healthcare industry, a data breach can be a goldmine for unauthorized users when they access home addresses and social security numbers.

Unfortunately, 89% of health care organizations experienced data breaches in recent years. Recently, Experian reported that healthcare would continue to be a frequent target for hackers, and this prediction has held. If you aren’t proactive in protecting patient data, there is a high likelihood that your practice will end up with the others who have been targeted by hackers.

Common Causes of Data Breaches

It’s convenient to have patient information online, but this digital file storage means an intruder is accessing the file with no notification. Before the days of medical software programs and computers in every exam room, an individual needed physical access to the office to access patient information.

Today, a vast majority of patient information is stored online, providing unlimited options for hackers to take advantage of. Here are common weak points that lead to a data breach:

  • Healthcare staff accesses patient information through non-HIPAA compliant software or digital systems.
  • Data is not protected under physical and digital security systems.
  • Coworkers provide other employees with their software credentials, giving unauthorized users access to patient records.
  • Patient Health Information is released to the wrong person.
  • Records are unable to be located due to poor file organization.

Tips for Reducing Patient Breaches

What should you be doing to avoid compromising your patient information to unauthorized viewers? Here are a few proven, practical steps every healthcare provider should implement:

  • Create a Budget for Cyber Security: If you don’t already have a budget for advanced network security, this initiative should be at the top of your priority list. Consider increasing your budget to improve data safety as much as possible if you already have an established cybersecurity program.
  • HIPAA Audit and Analysis: Even the healthcare office should have a system in place to audit and monitor HIPAA compliance. This security risk analysis is used to identify weak points in your systems and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Manage Patient Health Information: Your organization needs a sound, internal system for organizing, tracking, and protecting Patient Health Information, but there are times when these records need to be securely transferred to patients or third parties. Implement a safe system to protect patient data and ensure security when it needs to be shared with others.
  • Destroy Confidential Information: When patient health information is no longer needed, it should be securely destroyed. Many viable companies can shred paperwork and physical records. Additionally, ensure that digital patient information is managed correctly – deleting a file doesn’t mean that it has been destroyed. Proper file management and protocols aid in reducing the risk of a data breach.
  • Management and Employee Training: Even if you’ve invested in the best software and security programs, the human element introduces potential risk. Your managers and staff members need to learn and understand the proper best security practices. Everyone should be versed in the latest HIPAA compliance guidelines and other patient information safety regulations.

Keeping your patient’s data safe will only reinforce your commitment to your patients’ health and safety while under your care. This commitment will pay off in the long run, and your patients will thank you for it.

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