Cybersecurity Tips For Healthcare Institutions

Cybersecurity Tips For Healthcare Institutions
Photo by Luke Chesser / Unsplash

It’s become more important than ever for healthcare institutions to develop a cybersecurity strategy. Many aspects of healthcare are now conducted digitally - many organizations now offer telehealth services and store patient data on their servers. You’ll need to keep cybersecurity in mind across your entire organization to protect your patients’ privacy and safety.

Cybersecurity is also a crucial part of HIPAA compliance. In order to stay compliant, businesses must keep protected health information private and secure. They also must keep patients informed about how this private health information is stored and any potential cybersecurity risks.

Cyber crime has been on the rise in recent years. Many hackers specifically target healthcare institutions because of the valuable data they have access to. In fact, healthcare data breaches reached an all-time high in 2021.

These healthcare breaches are not only dangerous for your patients, but they can also have serious negative effects on your organization in the long term. A data breach will result in a loss of patient trust and can ultimately cause you to lose business. Additionally, breaching HIPAA’s cybersecurity regulations can result in serious fines. Fines for HIPAA violations can range anywhere from $100 to $50,000 per record breach, depending on the severity of the fine.

Preventative action is the best way for healthcare organizations to keep their data safe and secure. Here are cybersecurity tips that every healthcare organization should keep in mind moving forward.

Educate Your Team

To keep your organization safe from hackers, your entire team will need to be on board. This means providing regular education about good cyber hygiene as well as the warning signs to watch for. This goes beyond your office staff - all doctors, nurses, and other staff members who use technology at work should be educated about what cybersecurity risks to watch for and the steps they can take to prevent them.

Everyone in your organization should learn how to spot phishing scams and malware, and avoid opening messages or clicking on links that aren’t from trusted sources. Additionally, your team should be changing their passwords frequently and updating both software and hardware.

Require Strong Passwords For Patients

Telehealth services have been incredibly helpful for patients, as they can now access important health information from their computers or mobile devices. However, this makes healthcare providers more vulnerable to cybersecurity breaches.

One easy way to improve your digital security is to set strict password requirements for your patients. Passwords should be complex and difficult to guess, and patients should be required to change them at regular intervals. Two-factor authentication is also a helpful tool for digital security. Two-factor authentication requires patients to provide a password and another piece of secure information in order to access their account. The second piece of information is typically a code sent via text message or email.

Limit The Use of Mobile Devices

To keep patient information secure, healthcare institutions need to be very vigilant about the type of devices their staff are using. Remote work has become very popular in recent years, and it can be tempting for medical staff to work on-the-go using mobile devices.

However, this is very risky for a number of reasons. Most mobile devices don’t have the same access controls as desktop computers. When working in public, there’s also the risk that people nearby might view protected health information, whether they’re looking over your shoulder or gain access digitally through an unsecured network.

Because of this, healthcare organizations should limit the use of mobile devices whenever possible. If a team member must use a mobile device in an emergency, they should do so using an encrypted network, ideally while at work.

Keep Work and Personal Devices Separate

In the same vein, your team should use dedicated work computers instead of personal computers. Work computers should only have the software necessary for work - games and other apps for entertainment can pose extra security risks. Your staff should also use their personal devices for all web browsing that isn’t related to work.

All new work-related software programs should be properly vetted before installation, regardless of their size or what they are for. Any third-party technology partners you work with should also be vetted for security and HIPAA compliance.

Install Firewalls and Anti-Virus Software

Your system needs a first line of defense against hackers and malicious software programs. This is where a firewall comes in. While not completely foolproof, a firewall will protect your systems from a variety of different threats. All work devices should also be equipped with antivirus software programs. If malware does somehow make it past the firewall, the antivirus program destroys it before it can attack your systems.

Update Your Systems Regularly

Hackers regularly find new ways to outsmart existing cybersecurity protections. Because of this, it’s very important to keep both your software and your hardware updated across your entire organization. Software updates are designed to patch earlier security holes and protect your data. If you neglect to perform regular updates, you leave yourself more vulnerable to data breaches.

If your team struggles to remember to update their systems, schedule a time each month specifically to conduct updates. Ideally, this should happen on a weekend or during off hours, so it doesn’t interfere with your work schedule.

Back Up Your Data

No matter how vigilant you are, you can’t completely eliminate the risk of a data breach. Make sure that all of your data is securely backed up so that it won’t be lost in the event of an emergency.

Your data should be backed up in a different place than it is originally stored. For example, if you’re using HIPAA-compliant cloud software as your main data storage method, consider using local servers for your backup, and vice versa. Not only does this protect you from data breaches, but it also ensures your data will still be accessible in the event of a natural disaster.

Healthcare institutions have access to extremely sensitive personal data, so cybersecurity shouldn’t be taken lightly. If your healthcare organization doesn’t currently have a cybersecurity strategy in place, now is the perfect time to start.