How Medical Practices Should Address Cyber Security

by | Jan 26, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

The healthcare industry has consistently been a prime target for cybercriminals. The sensitive and confidential data stored in medical records makes them valuable and lucrative to hackers. The Anthem data breach in 2015 compromised almost 80 million patient records, remaining the most significant data leak to date in the healthcare industry. But even small, independent medical practices are increasingly under attack as they are much easier to breach. Health IT Security notes that a staggering 71 percent of all ransomware attacks target small-to-medium-sized practices.  

Smaller businesses are most vulnerable to cyberattacks because of a lack of cybersecurity resources and protocols. Practices must invest in robust security measures to protect patient data, financial stability, and market reputation. Here are the ten most significant ways medical practices can strengthen their cybersecurity:

Educate and train the staff

Employees are the most valuable resources in a medical organization, but they can also be the weakest link for cybersecurity. If an unsuspecting employee clicks on a ransomware or phishing email, the entire network can be compromised. Training employees to understand and implement cybersecurity practices is critical for medical practices. Schedule frequent and ongoing training programs to ensure the staff is aware of the latest security protocols and vulnerabilities. Training should also include education on how to respond to a breach.  Preparing the team for a worst-case scenario will help minimize damage when a breach occurs. 

Restrict access to sensitive data

Medical practices must control access to sensitive data in physical and virtual spaces. Implement protocols that strictly enforce who can access confidential data and when. For example, it is critical to immediately remove access from terminated employees, preventing them from accessing the system and manipulating data. Maintaining a layered defense system is the best way to protect the organization’s network and patient data. Protect data stored on an in-office server by locking the doors at all times to prevent unauthorized access to the physical server space. Individual laptops and computers should never be left unattended.

Improve password management

Passwords are the first line of defense in preventing unauthorized access to any network. A weak password that is easy to guess defeats this purpose. Hackers often use automated methods to test common passwords and gain access to patient records. An easy solution is to make employees create new passwords periodically. Ideally, do not use passwords for other applications, like personal emails or bank accounts. Medical practices should also be careful about storing passwords in a secure place. Never share passwords in an email, document, or even a sticky note.

Monitor logging and use on the private network

Keeping track of data access helps practices improve security measures. The network needs an enforced system to monitor which users are accessing information, when it is accessed, on which devices, and from what locations. By maintaining accountability in the workforce,  practices will remain compliant with HIPAA requirements. Logs of these interactions are valuable for auditing purposes, helping to locate emerging threats and vulnerabilities and resulting in enhanced cybersecurity protocols.

Transfer data securely

Data is often the most vulnerable when shared across a network. Data is encrypted before it is transmitted online to protect the confidentiality of patient records. Encryption converts sensitive information to encoded data called ciphertext.  It is decoded only with the correct decryption key or password, making it very difficult (ideally, impossible) for hackers to decipher patient records, even if they gain access to the data. As a fundamental security practice, ensure that the organization’s network and sharing solutions are secure. Medical offices can then enforce policies that forbid data sharing through any other method.

Protect mobile devices

It is risky to access patient data from mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops, and portable storage media. They often lack strong authentication and access controls and can be easily targeted by hackers. Complete mobile device security entails a range of security measures, including:

  • Managing device settings and configurations
  • Encrypting application data
  • Scanning emails and attachments for phishing, malware, or ransomware
  • Enforcing guidelines to limit the use of third-party applications 
  • Installing mobile security software, such as mobile device management solutions
  • Revoking access/wiping data from lost or stolen devices

Install and maintain updated software

A network with outdated software is always at a high risk of cyberattacks. Updates often include security patches needed to protect the data from new threats. Medical practices should ensure that all software, anti-virus, and other applications in the network are up-to-date. In the case of anti-virus software, it is critical to use a product that provides continuously updated protection.

Utilize data back-ups

Save and back-up patient data and other sensitive information daily, ideally at an off-site location, to protect the data in the event of a malware infection, ransomware attack, or natural disaster. Back-ups must operate with strict controls for data encryption, access, and other security best practices. TRIARQ’s industry-leading EHR/PM QSuite automatically backs up all confidential data to a secure cloud server every day.

Perform regular risk assessments

Although logging and monitoring offer a reliable audit trail, practices also need to take proactive measures for medical data security. Routine risk assessments help identify security vulnerabilities across the entire organization. These could be weak points in the network firewall, shortcomings in employee education, or flaws in the security posture of vendors and business associates. Regular evaluation and assessment of potential risks are critical for mitigating them. 

Upgrade to a cloud-based Electronic Medical Records (EMR) System

Transitioning to a cloud-based EMR is one of the best measures a medical practice can take for its data security. A cloud-based EMR is convenient, accessible, and includes powerful industry protection. Secure, off-site servers are maintained 24/7 by highly trained professionals in ultra-secure environments. TRIARQ’s cutting-edge cloud hosting and EMR services include custom configuration and dedicated performance management. The only expenses are low, predictable monthly fees that are easy to budget for and save money long-term.

Final Thoughts

Healthcare providers have the immense responsibility of protecting their patient data at all times. But with new threats and risks emerging every day, implementing timely security protocols can quickly become overwhelming. TRIARQ Health’s cloud-based EMR can make all the difference. As a Management Services Organization, we provide a complete solution, taking care of everything from intuitive patient portals and appointment schedulers to billing compatibility and e-prescriptions, all delivered through modern, easily accessible online tools. Learn more about our all-inclusive Cloud EMR package here, or get in touch with one of our experts.