Healthcare and Cybersecurity: 6 Reasons They Go Hand-in-Hand

Nelson Gomes

By Nelson Gomes

Over the past several years, there's been increased attention paid to healthcare and the cybersecurity measures critical to keeping cybercriminals out of healthcare providers' networks. At Medicus IT, protecting client data is a top priority. But despite the growing appreciation for the importance of cybersecurity for healthcare, warding off bad actors is often easier said than done.

Why? To stay relevant in today's digital environment, healthcare organizations must implement various information technology (IT) systems. These can include electronic health record (EHR) platforms, e-prescription systems, practice management software, clinical decision support systems, radiology information software, physician order entry platforms, and many others.

While these electronic systems can help streamline workflows and improve cost-efficiency, they also increase the attack surface through which cybercriminals can infiltrate your IT infrastructure and steal critical data, such as protected health information (PHI.)

That's why cybersecurity for healthcare must be considered carefully. Healthcare providers should work to implement the latest cybersecurity measures to protect their sensitive patient information. That's not only vital for HIPAA compliance but also to help ensure normal functioning of operations.

Why Healthcare and Cybersecurity Are a Critical Pairing

Cybersecurity for healthcare is essential in today's digital environment. Let's review six of the reasons why healthcare providers must make cybersecurity a top priority.

1. Protect Patient Privacy

As a healthcare provider, you collect, process, and store large amounts of patient PHI. A successful cyberattack can give criminals access to sensitive personal data that are highly sought after and valuable on the black market. Criminals can also use the data for other malicious activities (e.g., identity theft), thereby exposing patients to financial, reputation, and other damages.

2. Ensure the Delivery of High-Quality Care

Losing access to medical records or medical Internet of Things (IoT) devices because of a virus or ransomware attack jeopardizes your ability to deliver care and ensure patient safety. Not to mention, hackers who break into your EHR system can intentionally or intentionally alter patient data, potentially leading to life-threatening errors and negative treatment outcomes.

3. Create Trust and Protect Reputation

Building credibility is key to attracting and retaining more patients — after all, they need to trust that not only will you provide great care, but that you would also work to ensure their personal data is kept safe. A data breach that leads to the loss of patient medical records may diminish the trust patients have in your organization and tarnish your reputation, possibly impacting your long-term ability to attract new patients to your facility or keep current ones coming back.

4. Prevent Medical Fraud

Criminals can potentially use compromised patient data to commit healthcare and insurance fraud. Your patients may suffer the consequences of identity theft, and your organization may incur financial losses and reputation damage. Meanwhile, widespread fraud impacts the healthcare industry as a whole, such as by increasing business insurance premiums and the overall cost of operations.

5. Avoid Regulatory Fines

A poor cybersecurity posture can lead to a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability ASC (HIPAA) and a hefty penalty. Failure to comply with HIPAA Privacy, Security, or Breach Notification Rules could lead to a fine of $50,000 or more — whether the violation is deliberate or unintentional.

6. Minimize Financial Damages

It's not a matter of if but when your organization will be targeted, if it hasn't already. Proper cybersecurity measures, such as those we prioritize for our healthcare provider clients, can help you stop or identify a breach fast. Spotting a problem early can help minimize costly downtime, lost revenue, the cost of remedial actions (e.g., providing credit monitoring to affected patients,) legal fees, and a lengthy recovery process that can impact patient care.

Understand the Top Cybersecurity Threats Faced by the Healthcare Industry

To strengthen cybersecurity for healthcare, be aware of some of the latest threats affecting the industry. These include the following

  • Ransomware attacks: It only takes one employee to click on a malicious email attachment to infect your network with ransomware. If the ransomware encrypted your files, you could lose access to this data until you pay a ransom (not advisable) or restore compromised data from a backup.
  • Data breaches: Hackers can steal your sensitive information, such as patient PHI, using malware, leaked credentials, lost or stolen devices, or social engineering techniques (e.g., phishing) that trick employees into giving up their log-in information.
  • Insider threats: A rogue employee with legitimate access to your systems can steal sensitive information and sell it to cybercriminals. But not all insider threats are malicious — breaches can be caused by negligent staff clicking on a malicious link or losing a device with access to PHI.
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack: Cybercriminals can flood your network with traffic to greatly slow down or make systems inoperable. Such attacks can be very disruptive for healthcare providers because they can prevent you from accessing critical network resources, such as patient medical records, communications, and billing documentation.

Healthcare and Cybersecurity: Adhering to HIPAA

To help strengthen cybersecurity for healthcare data and improve your security posture while maintaining compliance, understanding and following the HIPAA Security Rule is essential. To do so requires the implementation of three types of safeguards:

  • Administrative: The Security Rule defines administrative safeguards as "administrative actions, and policies and procedures, to manage the selection, development, implementation, and maintenance of security measures to protect electronic PHI and to manage the conduct of the covered entity’s workforce in relation to the protection of that information." Conduct a risk assessment to evaluate potential risks to PHI in your organization, implement security measures to address the risks, document remedial actions, and maintain continuous security protections.
  • Physical: The Security Rule defines physical safeguards as "physical measures, policies, and procedures to protect a covered entity’s electronic information systems and related buildings and equipment, from natural and environmental hazards, and unauthorized intrusion." Control access to areas where you store PHI and implement workstation and device security measures. These include policies to ensure proper access to workstations and the secure transfer, removal, disposal, and re-use of electronic media.
  • Technical: The Security Rule defines technical safeguards as “the technology and the policy and procedures for its use that protect electronic PHI and control access to it." Implement security measures such as firewalls, encryption, and data backup to protect PHI. These include access controls, audit controls, integrity controls, and data transmission security.

Establish a Solid Cybersecurity for Healthcare Foundation With a Detailed Plan

A data breach, according to a Bitglass analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data, cost a healthcare organization an average of $499 per record in 2020. That's not all: Research shows that it takes an average healthcare facility nearly eight months to fully recover from a breach.

To manage all the moving parts required for effective cybersecurity for healthcare, start with a risk assessment and develop a robust cybersecurity plan to better ensure that you're covering all the bases.

With the proper protection, you can better avoid attacks and breaches that may carry extensive legal ramifications, risks of medical fraud, and reputational damage to your healthcare organization. These long-term costs can go well beyond immediate fines or expenses associated with data recovery and remedial actions, potentially impacting your organization for years to come.

At Medicus IT, we understand the complexities of healthcare IT, and the high-stakes security, safety, and compliance issues that come with it. Our security and compliance services provide the strategic focus you need to better keep your systems and patient data safe. Get in touch with us to learn how we can help you strengthen your cybersecurity posture and keep cybercriminals at bay.

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