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5 Reliable Steps to a Stronger Healthcare Cybersecurity Posture

Keep your patient data safe and stay HIPAA compliant! Improve your healthcare organization's cybersecurity posture with 5 best practices.
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The healthcare sector is one of the most desirable targets for cyber crime, and a rising trend in costly breaches has led to increased attention from the Department of Health and Human Security.

While large hospitals and healthcare grab headlines for major security incidents, don’t make the mistake of thinking that outpatient and specialty practices are free from risk.

As the healthcare industry becomes increasingly interconnected, weak links can potentially expose sensitive health data—leading to lost revenue, interrupted care, damaged reputations, and ruptured partnerships.

A robust cybersecurity posture is your shield against damaging cyberattacks. Here are five steps that can help your security team protect your practice, your patients, and your bottom line.

What Is a Security Posture?

Your security posture refers to your organization’s overall readiness to thwart cyber threats of any kind.

Of course, this includes firewalls and other hardware and software protections. But more than that, a security posture encompasses defenses against the “soft” vulnerabilities of human behavior, such as falling for phishing schemes, poor password management, and deliberately malicious actions.

A robust, multilayered cybersecurity posture ensures that sensitive information is continually protected and patient care remains uncompromised.

🔎 Security Posture
The security status of an enterprise’s networks, information, and systems based on information security resources (e.g., people, hardware, software, policies) and capabilities in place to manage the defense of the enterprise and to react as the situation changes.

Identifying Threats to Protected Health Information

Healthcare data is among the most highly prized commodities on the digital black market, making healthcare organizations a common target.

In fact, in 2023 alone, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights received 566 reports of healthcare data breaches. Each one affected at least 500 individuals—but some impacted millions.

Attacks range from ransomware attacks, which can lock up entire systems, to malware and viruses that open pathways into your health information databases.

But people, not networks, are often the first target of cyberattacks, and the combination of human error and malicious actions can put sensitive data into the wrong hands.

For example, phishing—a cyber threat that relies on social engineering, fake offers, and impersonation of trusted sources—can trick staff members into revealing passwords and other personal information. Employees might also email the wrong recipients, exposing data intended for specific readers. A disgruntled staff member could even agree to sell sensitive patient data to bad actors. You’d be surprised, but it happens.

Benefits of a Strong Cybersecurity Posture

The value of your data makes it more essential than ever for healthcare providers to create a strong cybersecurity defense plan and raise security awareness among staff.  Key benefits of a robust cybersecurity posture include:

  • Improving patient safety, trust, and care delivery.
  • Maintaining HIPAA compliance. AKA, avoiding costly penalties!
  • Protecting PHI across multiple devices and locations, allowing your practice to grow—securely.

Step 1: Training Your Staff in Cybersecurity Best Practices

Conducting regular cybersecurity training can be the first line of defense against cyberattacks of all kinds. Training your entire staff to recognize potentially risky situations and follow best practices is a key step toward cultivating a company-wide security culture centered on patient safety.

Cybersecurity training should cover security policy essentials such as:

  • Why it’s important to protect patient information.
  • The consequences of HIPAA Security Rule violations.
  • Password management, multi-factor authentication, and device security.
  • How to recognize and flag phishing attacks.
  • Communications and other policies in the event of a security incident.
Illustration Hipaa Compliant Data Encryption For Emr And Patient Engagement

Although making time for regular training can be challenging in the midst of busy schedules and full case loads, healthcare organizations must create an annual training schedule to keep everyone updated and engaged.

Step 2: Assessing Your Security Risk

Strengthening your organization’s overall security begins with a thorough assessment of its current level of risk. This means identifying your organization’s attack surface, or the points of vulnerability across all systems. Areas for examination should include password and data access management, general network security protocols, and auditing legacy tools that may have outdated security systems.

“Covered entities” must also conduct a HIPAA-specific risk assessment explicitly designed to ensure the safe management of highly sensitive PHI. Risk assessment tools can pinpoint often overlooked gaps in areas ranging from staff protocols to network firewalls.

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Step 3: Auditing and Maintaining Your Systems

Along with identifying vulnerabilities and correcting them, a strong security posture requires regular auditing and maintenance of all systems, both internal and external. That can include updating installed network security systems as needed, changing access protocols, and monitoring all connected devices. 

System auditing and maintenance also includes vetting vendors, consultants, Business Associates, and other third parties involved with your organization’s ongoing activities. Security gaps in the connections your practice makes with these entities can open access to cyber threats such as malware, which can put sensitive patient data at risk.

Step 4: Managing and Monitoring Data Access and Usage

Today, providers rely on a large and growing array of networked devices for monitoring and recording patient care plans and other data. However, these devices and other equipment that access to patient data can be particularly vulnerable to security breaches and data theft.

Thankfully, health systems and information technology solutions face our own regulatory requirements and rigorous security standards. Your electronic health record (EHR) system should be designed to protect data from unauthorized access, with features like strong access controls, data usage monitoring, time-outs in response to inactivity, and structured user permission hierarchies.

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Step 5: Incident Response Planning

While it may seem pessimistic to prepare for the worst, a proactive approach saves your practice time and money. That’s why a you need an organization-wide blueprintor an Incident Response Plan (IRP)that explains how to respond to and mitigate cyberattacks and the risk of unauthorized access to patient information.

An IRP could include sections such as the criteria for identifying a cyberattack, contact information for reporting incidents, and a set of protocols for detecting, responding, and recovering from the a breach.

This isn’t a one-and-done task, either. Reviewing, updating, and disseminating your organization’s IRP should be a regular part of any robust cybersecurity program and a part of ongoing staff training.

Preventing Data Breaches with Proactive Risk Management

Cyberattacks can have devastating effects not only on the patients’ safety but also on your practice’s reputation and financial stability. Reinforce your risk management efforts by following the five-step plan I’ve laid out:

  1. Training your staff annually.
  2. Understanding cybersecurity threats and assessing your risks.
  3. Auditing and maintaining your systems.
  4. Managing and monitoring data access and usage.
  5. Creating an incident response plan (IRP).

Here at Raintree Systems, we help physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and multi-disciplinary practices grow and succeed with scalable and robust software solutions. Raintree offers the only ONC-certified EHR system designed specifically for rehab therapy. Want to learn more? Schedule a demo and learn why high-growth PT, OT, SLP, and multi-disciplinary practices choose Raintree.

A Photo Of Don Silva Sr.

Don Silva Sr. is Raintree Systems’ Chief Information Security Officer and VP System Ops & Infrastructure. As a senior leader with over 20 years experience leading Global Technology Teams across a variety of industries, he has helped companies grow, mature and align Security & Engineering Teams with business goals. Read Don’s full bio >

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