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9 Important Ways to Improve Patient Data Security


Your patients rely on you to take care of their medical needs. This also means they have to trust that their confidential medical information is safe with you. But if your data is breached, it's hard to keep that trust.

Unfortunately, there are more healthcare hacking incidents and incidents of unauthorized access happening every year. Healthcare breaches are a common occurrence, and every data breach hurts your patients' trust in you as a healthcare provider.

Protect your patients' data by using these nine best practices to keep your data security airtight.

1. Know What's On Your Network

It all begins with knowing what's on your network.

The basic goal here is to understand how many points of access are on your network (and thus how many different places you need to protect).

Thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there that will help you identify how many devices are on your network, as well as track when a new device is added to your network.

In addition, if you work with any external services (like a software provider or a third party who shares data with you) these are also points of access and can weaken the integrity of your network.

2. Do a Risk Assessment

Once you have a complete picture of your data security landscape, you need to do a risk assessment.

This is one of the most basic tasks you can do to protect your system from leaks. After all, it's hard to protect your system if you don't know where it needs to be strengthened.

It's also required under the HIPAA security rule, and you have to conduct annual risk assessments to meet the criteria for the Meaningful Use EHR Incentive Program and Medicare's Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

3. Limit Data Access

How many of your employees have access to confidential patient data? How many of them need to access it, and for what purpose?

The truth is, many higher-level executives don't know the details of employee access rights, and that's a huge risk for your data security.

We're not saying you need to lock your employees out of patient data. We're saying you need to limit data access to control the flow of information.

4. Encrypt Data

One of the ways you can help limit data access is by encrypting data.

While technically data encryption isn't required under the HIPAA security rule, it has to be implemented if a risk assessment finds that encryption is a reasonable and appropriate safeguard. If encryption isn't reasonable or appropriate, you still need to find an alternative that achieves the same goal.

This can be a bit of an annoyance at first, but the fact is, it's one of the best ways to help protect data. After all, hackers can't use stolen data if they don't have the key to break the encryption.

That said, the weak point of encryption is that it relies on protecting access to the system since your employees won't be able to use data either unless they have the passwords needed to decrypt it.

5. Identify Sensitive Data

For this reason, data encryption should be part of a larger data security strategy. A key component that should accompany encryption is the identification of sensitive data.

This has two purposes:

  1. To identify what data needs the strongest protection
  2. To identify who can and should access that data

An orderly doesn't need access to the biggest company secrets, they just need to access patient information.

By identifying tiers of sensitive data and creating tiers of access, you can help protect your most valuable data, even if part of your encryption is broken.

6. Implement a Data Security Policy

This is all part of implementing a strong data security policy.

After all, if you don't have a plan for dealing with a cyber-attack, you'll be thoroughly crippled if one does occur. For this reason, you should have a clear set of policies and procedures to protect your data against attacks and deal with the aftermath of an attack.

Remember, though, that a policy is only as good as its last revision. Technology is changing, and your policy should adapt with it.

7. Strong and Different Passwords

Sounds pretty basic, doesn't it? Your computer teacher and IT team have been preaching the need for strong passwords since the first day you sat down at a computer screen.

They have a point: "password" is a much easier password to hack than "f4X@oi876256hL9*."

Strong passwords contain a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. In addition, you should use different passwords for each department and each individual program.

It's a pain for your employees to remember, but it helps contain the damage if one password is hacked.

8. Train Users

If you've been paying attention, you've probably sensed a theme by now: teaching data security best practices to your employees.

Unfortunately, most data breaches are caused by human error. After all, you can have the most secure system in the world and it won't do you a drop of good if your employee uses a weak password.

When you implement a data security policy, take the time to train your employees on their role in this process. Make it clear what your expectations are and what they can do to keep patient data secure.

9. Don't Store Data on User Devices

Finally, you should avoid storing data on user devices whenever possible.

For many small practices, their focus is on protecting access to the system, rather than protecting the data itself, which is why many practices allow users (doctors, nurses, etc.) to store data on devices like computers, laptops, or mobile devices.

Here's the problem: a hacker can use the least secure device on your system and access data stored there.

For this reason, it's more secure to use a central server for patient data which all devices access remotely, rather than storing data locally on devices.

Helping Your Data Security

If data security sounds like a hefty undertaking, it is. Then again, so is saving people's lives. If you're in the business of healing people, both practices should matter to you.

Of course, when you've got an organization to run, whether it's a hospital or a private practice, you may not have time to manage your data security yourself.

That's where we come in.

Our data protection services offer a complete security package from compliance to analysis to disaster recovery. Ready to start the conversation? We're ready to listen. Get in touch today to see what we can do for you.

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