How Hospitals Protect Patient Data

By July 27, 2017 Business Continuity

While every organization should take every possible measure to protect client information, heavily regulated industries such as healthcare also find themselves subject to strict legal obligations. Data security should always be at the forefront of your IT strategy, especially if you’re in the process of migrating your operations to the cloud, in which case you’ll no longer have as much direct control over your data.

In the U.S., hospitals are required to store and transmit patient data in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It’s important to remember that HIPAA concerns all patient data, regardless of the company handling it. There are many businesses that might not be directly involved in the healthcare industry itself but still handle patient data, hence the need for compliance.

Defining a Data Security Strategy

Hospitals that take compliance and patient privacy seriously start by defining their strategy for managing sensitive data. The first step is to conduct a thorough audit of existing systems to expose any potential vulnerabilities and breaches of compliance. Hospitals are increasingly likely to use cloud services to store protected health information (PHI), in which case they’ll also need to take steps to ensure that their vendors provide the necessary security measures and comply with regulations. A data security strategy also requires consolidating all data handled by the organization before determining which data must be kept secure.

Building Cybersecurity Policies

Defining a data strategy is about laying out the initial cybersecurity framework, but organizations will need to implement the policies necessary to make that framework useful. Among the greatest dangers facing PHI is human negligence which is, after all, the weakest link in any cybersecurity policy. Hospitals and other organizations handling sensitive data must define acceptable use policies to give staff clear guidance into what they can and cannot do with PHI. For example, security policies may require strong passwords for authentication, restricted usage of mobile devices, and blacklisted applications.

Implementing a Multi-Layered Approach to Security

As computing environments become ever more complex, the number of possible attack vectors increases. With threats constantly becoming more sophisticated, hospitals need to take a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity to remain compliant. Protecting PHI requires many security measures to stay in place, including traffic monitoring capabilities, firewalls, blacklisting mechanisms, data encryption, virtual private networks, and data loss prevention solutions. Because of the great complexities involved with such a multi-layered approach, many healthcare organizations choose to outsource their cybersecurity needs to a managed services provider.

Developing a Business Continuity Plan

Back in May, the WannaCry ransomware attack crippled Britain’s National Health Service, which was inadequately prepared with its dated systems. This attack proved just how essential it is for a healthcare organization to have reliable and secure access to medical records. Of course, business continuity is important for any organization but, in the case of hospitals, it can literally be a matter of life and death. Protecting patient data isn’t just about keeping it away from prying eyes; it’s also about making sure it’s available when you need it. A responsible approach to data security involves storing copies of records off-site and having a disaster recovery plan to fall back on.

Private health information is the lifeblood of any healthcare institution, so it’s essential to take every possible step to protect it while also making sure it remains accessible whenever your staff need it. By following the rules laid out by HIPAA and choosing your vendors wisely, you too can stay on the right side of the law while protecting your business and its clients from almost any eventuality.

Truewater provides a range of IT services for healthcare organizations, including veterinary practices, dentists and hospitals. Call us today to learn how we can equip your business with a sustainable and fully compliant IT infrastructure.



Truewater was established in 2001 with the vision of bringing enterprise class IT support to small and medium sized businesses.