Why is Cybersecurity Important in Healthcare: Educating Your Staff

Mike Jann

By Mike Jann

While sometimes underappreciated, cybersecurity is one of the most critical facets of running a successful healthcare organization today. Why is cybersecurity so important in healthcare? Healthcare facilities, including ambulatory surgery centers, private practices, and community health centers, are major targets for cybercriminals. Medical records that include protected health information (PHI) are the most sought-after items on the dark web — commanding up to 200x the value of a credit card.

What’s more, cybercrime is on the rise in the healthcare sector. 2020 set a new record for healthcare data breaches — an increase of over 55% from 2019 — and 2021 is on track to surpass this number.

At Medicus IT, keeping healthcare organizations safe from cybercriminals and protecting their patients’ data is always treated as a top priority. As we tell our clients, a key component of any healthcare cybersecurity program is staff continueing education. As part of this effort, organizations make ensure that employees are familiar with how to handle patient data securely, how to spot and avoid phishing and other scams, and what to do in the event of a data breach or ransomware attack.

Helping Staff Understand Why Cybersecurity is Important in Healthcare

There are many factors that go into protecting a healthcare organization from cybercriminals — everything from data encryption to automated software updates to HIPAA compliance and security risk assessments.

Let’s examine five of the top reasons why staff training is so essential for healthcare cybersecurity.

1. Human error is one of the most common causes of data breaches in healthcare cybersecurity.

Your healthcare organization is only ever as secure as its weakest link. For some facilities, the most vulnerable component of its healthcare cybersecurity posture is its employees. Researchers at Stanford University found that nine out of 10 data breaches are caused by employee errors.

In many instances, these errors could have been avoided by providing appropriate employee cybersecurity training on issues such as phishing, password best practices, and the correct ways to store and share confidential patient information.

2. Employees sometimes need to access sensitive patient data via their own devices.

In today’s increasingly remote and distributed workforces, employees may need to access patient data from home or while traveling and out in the field. This can expose healthcare facilities to additional cybersecurity risks. Employees who haven’t been trained in HIPAA-compliant best practices using workplace technology may not be familiar with how to maintain compliance on their own devices (e.g., laptops, tablets, smartphones).

In fact, an IBM report found that more than 50% of newly remote workers are using their personal laptops for work. Of those, 45% hadn’t received any new training on cybersecurity, 50% reported that they had been given no new guidelines on password management or handling PHI at home, and 61% had received no additional tools or software to protect their own devices from cybercrime.

To address this issue, we recommend that all healthcare facilities develop security protocols for all devices and provide employee training on HIPAA compliance for personal devices, especially if they are using shared computers at home. Staff should also receive training on how to store patient data securely when out of the office. Printing should also be blocked for remote employees unless they have HIPAA compliant ways to dispose of it once it is no longer needed.

3. Phishing attempts are on the rise.

According to the FBI, phishing incidents in 2020 nearly doubled in frequency when compared to the previous year. In fact, there were 11 times more phishing complaints in 2020 than there were in 2016.

Generally speaking, phishing is an online scam in which cybercriminals send emails that appear to be from a trusted source. The emails will either attempt to convince the recipient to provide personal information or click on a link that will download malware. These emails also can come from trusted sources when then their credentials are compromised.

A critical solution for helping protect your healthcare organization from phishing attacks is employee training. You need to make sure that employees will recognize and avoid phishing attempts every time. One of the most effective forms of training is a security awareness phishing campaign. This training tool can be provided by a healthcare IT security consulting firm, such as Medicus IT. During a phishing awareness campaign, the training provider will simulate a phishing attack and track how employees respond. Based on these results, employees can then receive targeted training to help them better identify and report suspected phishing attempts.

4. Prompt and effective responses to data breaches are critical.

No matter how well you work to protect your healthcare facility, there is always the risk of a data breach. While prevention should always be a top cybersecurity focus, you also need to ensure that you are fully prepared for a data breach if one does occur. An efficient incident response process can help reduce your downtime, minimize the damage to your brand reputation, and ideally limit the cost and impact caused by a cyberattack.

One of the first steps for a successful data breach response is a formal, written plan. However, your incident response will only be effective if your staff are fully trained on how to implement the plan in the event that you experience a breach. You need to make sure that employees understand the different types of breaches and how they occur as well as the process to follow to report suspicious activity or an incident, including an accidental data breach.

You should also run simulations of your data breach response plan to make sure that everyone knows what to do and how to spot potentially exploitable gaps in your planning.

5. It's a HIPAA requirement.

Our final reason why security is important in healthcare concerns the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Healthcare cybersecurity training does more than help keep your patient data safe from cybercriminals. It will also help protect your healthcare organization from HIPAA non-compliance and possible fines. A "security awareness and training program" is mandatory for all members of organizations regulated by HIPAA under the HIPAA Security Rule.

HIPAA guidelines do not specify the kind of training staff members should receive because of the range of possible training requirements for the wide scope of healthcare organizations covered by HIPAA regulations. To identify key training needs, we recommend that healthcare organizations start by conducting a HIPAA security assessment. A thorough security risk assessment by a specialized healthcare IT firm will help you identify the key areas to focus on when planning your staff cybersecurity training.

Get the Help You Need With Healthcare Cybersecurity

At Medicus IT, we specialize in providing healthcare organizations with the personalized healthcare IT solutions, expert guidance, strategies, and everyday maintenance that strengthens security posture and keeps cybersecurity top of mind for leadership and staff. In fact, our success as one of the nation's most comprehensive healthcare IT and managed services providers has earned us a place on the Inc. 5000 list seven times. To learn more about our wide range of services and how they will help your healthcare organization, click here to get in touch with us!

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