The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a policy that protects sensitive health information. Cybersecurity issues in the healthcare industry have increased because of the growing use of technological devices and cloud storage systems. Consider this stat: in the first six months of 2019, over nine million healthcare records were exposed, affecting more than 26 million people.
Malicious actors target the healthcare industry because it’s a goldmine of sensitive personal health records. Cybersecurity-wise, implementing preventive measures alone isn't enough to protect data in the healthcare industry. In 2020, hacking or information technology (IT) incidents, such as ransomware attacks and phishing, were responsible for over 60% of healthcare-related breaches. This is why health enterprises need to implement HIPAA—it’s an elaborate policy that offers protective and recovery measures against cyber infiltration.
HIPAA cybersecurity compliance is essential to protecting personal data in health-related organizations. In this article, you'll learn 5 steps to implement the HIPAA policy.
What is the HIPAA Policy?
Developed in 1996, the HIPAA policy is a regulatory policy that secures the protected healthcare information (PHI) of service users. PHI addresses the information used to identify individuals. PHI includes medical diagnoses and procedural descriptions, personal/family medical history, test and laboratory results, and demography and insurance information.
HIPAA is a compulsory requirement for covered entities and business associates that handle or transmit PHI. Examples of covered entities include healthcare providers and healthcare insurers. Business associates are external enterprises that handle personally identifiable information (PII) on behalf of healthcare providers. Billing companies, third-party consultants, practice management firms, cloud and physical storage providers, and email hosting services are examples of business associates.
The HIPAA Rules
HIPAA isn't just a recommendation; it's a compulsory requirement for healthcare-related enterprises and managed security service providers (MSSP). Several standards constitute the HIPAA policy. The major standards include the HIPAA privacy rules, the HIPAA security rule, and the breach notification rule (BNR).
1. The HIPAA Privacy Rules
The HIPAA privacy rules are specifically designed for covered entities. Privacy rules address the rights of customers and healthcare providers to PHI. The privacy rules also cover the physical security and confidentiality of different PHI formats (electronic, paper, and oral). The objective of the privacy rule is to promote quality health care without compromising the PHI of individuals.
2. The HIPAA Security Rule
The security rule protects the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI in electronic format (that is, ePHI). The security rule is a mandatory HIPAA regulation for covered entities and business associates. The rule safeguards three security standards—administrative, technical, and physical.
- Physical safeguards: They protect the physical structure and devices where you store and access ePHI. Device and media security, workstation use and security, and facility access control are the core elements of physical safeguards.
- Technical safeguards: They protect the technology, such as data encryption, data backup, and firewalls, behind ePHI. The key elements of technical safeguard include access control, integrity control, and transmission security.
- Administrative safeguards: They are internal actions, policies, and procedures that govern the protection of ePHI. The safeguards also govern the behavior of employees concerning the protection of personal data. The core aspects of administrative safeguards are security incident response, workforce security, security management processes, and security awareness and training.
The BNR manages the disclosure of breaches. According to the BNR, should a data breach occur, the following entities must be notified: the Health and Human Services, affected individuals, and media (where necessary). The BNR stipulates that:
- Data breaches that expose the PHI of 500 individuals or fewer should be reported to the affected individuals within 60 days of breach discovery.
- Data breaches affecting the PHI of over 500 individuals must be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights within 60 days of breach discovery. The affected individuals and media (if the breach affects 500 or more residents of a state) should also be notified of the breach.
In 2019, Israel-based researchers created a virus that adds a tumor to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that create faux diagnoses. In 2020, US federal agencies urged healthcare organizations to “shore up their network system and remain vigilant” against ransomware attacks and potential threats. These two instances reinforce why health organizations and associates must implement HIPAA security standards.
The steps listed below will help you implement HIPAA cybersecurity standards. The steps include:
1. Conduct Risk Analysis
A risk assessment will help you uncover threats that can compromise your IT security. Risk analysis will help you assess the potential threat impact and level (low, medium, or high) of every risk. Once you identify vulnerable assets and networks, you should prioritize these areas in your security standards.
2. Implement Security Safeguards
Security safeguards protect your networks and devices against risks and known vulnerabilities. Security safeguards also ensure that your information security system complies with the appropriate security standard. For HIPAA compliance, implement security standards—such as administrative, technical, and physical— to protect your customer records whether in use, at rest, or in motion.
3. Implement a Breach Notification Procedure
Information security is incomplete without a pre-planned response procedure. The breach notification protocols will help you comply with the relevant legal and security bodies, including the HIPAA rules. It'll also help you document every breach for a robust audit.
4. Train your Employees
Your defense system is as good as the security depth of your employees. The first step to training is to appoint a HIPAA security and privacy officer. The officer will help you oversee HIPAA training sessions and policies that fit the needs of your organization.
5. Encrypt your Devices
In 2020, stolen or lost devices were responsible for 8.7% of healthcare-related breaches. Encrypting your mobile devices, laptops, and other storage devices is vital to protecting the PHI of your customers. Data encryption also protects your devices and networks against unauthorized entry. For a robust security measure, create a comprehensive mobile policy that addresses the use of devices and email—which are susceptible to phishing attacks— in or outside the workplace.
Benefits of HIPAA Compliance
With HIPAA compliance, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose, security-wise. HIPAA ensures your business is compliant with national security regulations and standards whilst also protecting the data of your customers. It’s a win-win situation whether you’re a covered entity, business associate, or MSSP. Other benefits of HIPAA cybersecurity compliance include:
- It builds customer trust: Customers value security. With HIPAA, you show prospective clients and existing customers that your enterprise prioritizes information security. This will help you build trust and loyalty from internal and external stakeholders.
- It helps you implement incident response (IR) strategies: HIPAA allows you to implement IR strategies and backup systems. These systems will help you recover your systems swiftly should an infiltration occur.
- Data security: HIPAA compliance ensures the installation of failsafe security measures. For instance, installing data encryption on devices containing sensitive data is mandatory. In general, HIPAA will help you implement security measures and policies that’ll protect your enterprise.
The HIPAA regulation is a lengthy set of regulatory frameworks and standards. For HIPAA compliance, you need the guidance of an expert. At NW Technologies, we provide professional and technical guidance that’ll help you implement HIPAA rules.
Our experts will help you conduct regular risk assessment tests to detect potential threats. Besides, we offer consultation and training sessions about information security standards and policies. Our services also include cybersecurity compliance, IT management, and a comprehensive auditing process. For your HIPAA compliance and other IT-related concerns, we’re a session away. Reach us now!