HIPAA and cybersecurity are very closely related – to ensure HIPAA compliance, effective cybersecurity measures are an absolute necessity. It is quite simple – HIPAA rules dictate that PHI (protected health information) is safeguarded against inappropriate access from both internal and external means, and cybersecurity ensures that patients’ sensitive information is well guarded and protected. However, every day, there is a new cybersecurity incident occurring which leads to data breaches, compromising the PHI of several patients. Let’s see how HIPAA cybersecurity training and solutions can help ensure compliance and mitigate these issues, along with why the US healthcare system is so commonly targeted.
What you should know
For years, the US healthcare system has been the most lucrative target for hackers. Even though there are several rules and regulations in place to safeguard sensitive data (read HIPAA and PHI), hackers have always found ways to steal the data, violating patient privacy. Healthcare data breaches cost around 5.7 billion per year while affecting around 27 million individuals, reflecting how big of a target the healthcare system is for hackers. While this might show that it is high time that hospitals upgrade their cybersecurity efforts and ensure effective HIPAA cybersecurity training, there’s more to the problem than meets the eye.
Why is healthcare the biggest target?
One of the biggest reasons is that the providers have to be connected to the internet continuously for almost all of their operations, including activities dealing with PHI. This makes providers more prone to hacking attempts, as the data is present online, albeit behind secure walls. It is not an option for healthcare providers to just go offline – if the internet is down, then their services will be down as well. Everyone, from doctors to nurses to EHR users, has to be connected to the internet to log in and work on providing healthcare services. Thus, data breaches are quite common among healthcare providers.
Another reason is that the data is extremely valuable on the black market, even more than credit card information. PHI consists of Social Security numbers, medical information, as well as insurance details – all of which are moneymakers in the black market. According to the Infosec Institute, PHI can be sold for up to $363. Another reason why PHI is so expensive is that the data cannot be altered – it is connected to the health conditions of the patients (medical conditions, medications, medical history, etc.), whereas credit card information can be changed easily. Medical identity theft is quite prevalent as well – after buying from the black market, bad actors can easily assume the identity of the victims and use healthcare services illegally, costing the victims a lot of money.
A prominent reason is that providers are quite easy targets for hackers. Sadly, healthcare providers do not have adequate cybersecurity measures in place. According to Gartner, providers spent a meager 5% of IT budgets on cybersecurity in 2018, whereas over 80% of hospitals reported breaches during 2018-2019. Several hospitals chose to allocate their budgets to patient care rather than cybersecurity. Even though it was reported that hospitals will be spending to strengthen cybersecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone off balance making the hospitals more vulnerable than ever.
What is being done?
There are already HIPAA rules in place that hospitals have to abide by in order to dodge heft fines. However, as mentioned, the majority of healthcare providers tend to spend less on cybersecurity, ensuring the bare minimum safeguards required are met. While this might save them some money in the short run, it will come back to haunt them in the long run in the form of healthcare data breaches.
They need to notify patients, the HHS, and the media (in some cases), investigate the reasons for the breach, determining the number of affected patients, and have measures in place to mitigate the issue, for instance, providing complimentary services to the affected individuals. These activities can cost a significant amount of money, which can easily be avoided.
Moreover, there are many instances where breaches in hospitals occur due to a lack of HIPAA cybersecurity training as well as internal breaches. The lack of training can lead to employees inadvertently opening suspicious links sent by hackers, not ensuring that security measures are practiced regularly, such as encrypting data, using complex passwords, etc.
Provide HIPAA cybersecurity training
Other than implementing better cybersecurity measures, providers, as well as business associates, need to ensure that patient data is safe and secure at all times. They can do so by providing appropriate and timely HIPAA cybersecurity training to their employees who regularly handle PHI. While COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the world, hackers are setting their sights more on the healthcare providers to steal PHI. Implementing cybersecurity measures will not enhance security by itself – employees need to stay vigilant too – making effective training on how to keep PHI safeguarded an absolute necessity.
HIPAAReady is an effective way to provide HIPAA cybersecurity training to your employees. It is a robust HIPAA compliance software that simplifies compliance management by reducing the administrative burden. Ensure effective HIPAA cybersecurity training, keep all the HIPAA-related information at a centralized location, and conduct internal audits to address gaps and minimize them – all with a single application. Try out HIPAAReady to know why it is the most comprehensive HIPAA compliance management application.