Best Practices for Minimizing Your Medical Practice's Cybersecurity Risks

July 28, 2021 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Meaningful Use Stage 2, Practice Management, Medical Billing Company

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With so many aspects of the medical field moving to a virtual telemedicine realm, cybersecurity protocols for your medical practice are more important now than ever before. Your medical practice collects a wealth of personal information from patients, ranging from legal addresses to social security numbers, and more. Cybercriminals get smarter at navigating outdated security practices every day - it’s time to get your medical practice more defensive against them with these tips!

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Why is Managing Cybersecurity Risks Important for your Medical Practice?

Cybersecurity, digital privacy, and virtual attacks are significant concerns for all industries, but are especially problematic for medical practices. In the event of a data breach, it’s not just the healthcare organization that gets affected – it’s potentially each one of their patients, not to mention their business partners, contractors, employees, and so on.

Protecting your patients’ personal data is not only a legal standard set by HIPAA, but is also just as important as protecting their health. However, recent findings suggest medical practices are better at the latter than the former. Collectively it is estimated that about 26 million patient records were exposed to unauthorized parties in the US in 2020, with about 24.1 million of those as the result of healthcare cyber attacks.

How Common Are Cybersecurity Risks?

Medical practices are perfect targets to cybercriminals for their patient information which can be used for identity theft, tax fraud, and other financial crimes. With such vulnerability comes an undue level of risk for cybercrime, as well as for all of the legal and regulatory consequences that can potentially come with it. In fact, more than 93% of healthcare organizations experienced a data breach in the past three years! As cybercriminals continue to outsmart outdated digital protections, your medical practice’s countermeasures must advance as well.

Cybersecurity Risks for Medical Practices

Tips For Minimizing Your Medical Practice's Cybersecurity Risks

Stay Up-to-Date With All of Your Systems

The technological risks facing medical practices evolve so rapidly that outdated hardware and software simply can’t keep up. How old are your practice management and EHR solutions? Do they require regular updates? Are your solutions server-bound - and thus more easily compromised - or cloud-based? Make sure you monitor how well-equipped your systems are for providing an appropriate baseline of security.

Deploy Technical Controls & Education

Once you have security-smart solutions in place, the next trick is not to trust them! Work with an IT partner to implement ancillary technical controls that will make your existing security measures more robust. Such protections should include firewalls, desktop antivirus software, antivirus software on email servers, antivirus and anti-malware protection on employee inboxes, and content filtering for the Internet and email.

Create or Update Your Device Policy

Are laptops and smartphones used to access your patients’ personal health information (PHI)? Especially if they’re used outside the office, you face the risk of those devices being stolen and your patients’ data being compromised. Make sure you have procedures in place to ensure that electronic PHI is encrypted on mobile devices and that all laptops that connect to PHI-laden networks are regularly updated with virus-protection software and the appropriate personal firewalls.

Consider Using Password Best Practices

Nearly all aspects of online life entail utilizing passwords, so your medical practice must require the strongest possible passwords as another layer of defense from cyberattacks. Here are some tips:

  • Make the password at least 8 characters long - the longer the better since lengthier passwords are harder for thieves to crack.
  • Consider using passphrases. When possible, use a phrase such as “I went to Lincoln Middle School in 2004” and use the initial of each word like this: “Iw2LMSi#2004”.
  • Include numbers, capital letters, and symbols; don’t use dictionary words. If it’s in the dictionary, there’s a stronger chance someone will guess it. There’s even software that criminals use that can guess words used in dictionaries.
  • Passwords should be changed every 60 to 90 days to keep cybercriminals on their toes and away from your patient information
  • Set up multi-factor authentication that requires a code that is displayed on your phone; this way, hackers cannot access an account without having physical access to your phone.

Password Security for Cybersecurity Risks

Reduce Chances of Insider Threats

Insider threats include employees or contractors that snoop or access patient information without authorization. Snooping on patient records may be malicious or simply done out of curiosity, but either way, this unauthorized access is considered a HIPAA data breach. Be sure to minimize the amount of access that an employee or contractor has. These individuals should only have the minimum access needed to perform their job functions. Let employees know that random system auditing is in place and that it is periodically reviewed as this might deter an employee or contractor from malicious activity.

Prioritize Employee Security Training

Human error is the greatest threat to any security system; in fact, 95% of data breaches are caused by employee mistakes. It is critical to ensure that employees understand the risks to patient information and the threat of data breaches. Phishing and ransomware are leading methods of attacks. Employees need to know how to spot phishing emails, phishing websites, and the dangers of email attachments. In addition to knowing how patient data can be disclosed and used, employees must be aware of how to protect electronic patient information. Training needs to go beyond bringing employees into a conference room and discussing HIPAA regulations. Training needs to take into account the dangers of hacking, stolen mobile devices, posting patient information on social media, and other causes of data breaches.

Reach Out to the Experts for More Cybersecurity Management Tips!

Turn to the experts at NCG Medical for medical billing, revenue cycle management, and more to streamline your practice and optimize your operations. Outsourcing your medical billing can tremendously improve your practice in terms of internal and external efficiency. A medical billing firm can equip your practice with 24/7 reporting via analytics, for example, or can act as an in-house electronic health records (EHR) expert. In doing so, the outsourcing service can help ensure that incentive program adherence doesn’t drag your team’s time away from patients.

With NCG Medical, you’ll gain a team of experts in your corner who can help navigate the worlds of medical billing, healthcare software, and more! Contact us today to learn how we can make your practice more efficient, enable better patient access, and ensure you give the most effective care.

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