How HIPAA Protects Patients Against Cyberattacks

How HIPAA Protects Patients Against Cyberattacks
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There’s no doubt that technological advancements have greatly benefited humanity in many ways—from making it easier to access a broader range of information and services to enable more convenient and efficient shopping. 

While these advancements have been significant for society as a whole, they’re also the main contributing factor to cybersecurity threats becoming a more pressing issue. Because the internet is preeminent in the world and everything is almost connected online, all critical data such as personal health information is vulnerable to cyberattacks.

What Is HIPAA Compliance?

Personal health information is highly critical because cyber hackers can use it to gain access to what should be private information. Even the most basic health records, such as someone’s name and address, can provide thieves with valuable pieces of information. This information allows them to commit identity theft, which is why all healthcare providers and covered entities must follow HIPAA compliance to ensure the safety of their patient’s information.

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a federal law that contains regulations to protect patients’ privacy regarding medical records and health information. Its purpose is to ensure access to health information while still respecting constraints on patient confidentiality.

Healthcare providers are the most affected by HIPAA regulations. First, they’re required to protect any personal information used to identify patients, including medical records. This step means organizations must take special care when storing electronic health data like X-rays, test results, or, most importantly, a patient’s personal information. 

How Does It Protect Patients Against Cyberattacks?

Because a patient’s health information is so sensitive, hackers can use it to ask for huge ransoms. Thus, HIPAA limiting the use and disclosure of personal patient information is deemed necessary to ensure that the data is highly protected against cyberattacks. That’s why it’s essential for all individuals and organizations who have access to that information, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, and health insurers, to protect it. This protection is ensured by HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA is believed as one of the best ways to keep this information safe online. It works by mandating that covered entities and their business associates take steps to ensure electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI).

HIPAA-Covered Entities

A HIPAA-covered entity is any person or organization that provides healthcare services or insurance and falls under the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) jurisdiction. It covers doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, labs, nursing homes, and more.

HIPAA-Covered Business Associates

HIPAA also covers “business associates,” who are third-party service providers that help covered entities perform their work. These business associates (BAs) include healthcare clearinghouses, IT consultants, lawyers, accountants, and organizations that provide certain services to a covered entity. They’re also expected to abide by HIPAA’s rules for security as well.

How Hipaa Protects Patients Against Cyberattacks

 HIPAA General Guidelines

HIPAA sets the standards for protecting ePHI. Covered entities are responsible for securing the data in their systems and must demonstrate they’ve made an effort to keep them protected in good faith. Specifically, HIPAA rules require the following:

  • All covered entities and business associates have to ensure the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of all ePHI on their system. This measure extends to those that will receive and transmit these records. To ensure ePHI integrity means that it’s never altered or destroyed without a documented business need.
  • These processes should also be documented as policies and procedures, and security measures to prevent unauthorized access should be employed. Thus, to keep ePHI’s confidentiality means limiting access to authorized individuals or systems only. Keeping ePHI’s availability ensures that patients and authorized individuals have access to this information whenever needed.
  • Covered entities must take appropriate steps to identify and protect against potential threats to data security. They’re expected to perform a regular risk analysis and management to identify and implement controls in mitigating threats.

In addition, they’re expected to develop and implement a written risk management plan. This plan includes appropriate strategies to identify and address potential cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. Covered entities are also advised to review new technology and methods of operations for potential threats to security, theft, or misuse.  

  • Covered entities must protect ePHI against reasonably anticipated, impermissible uses. They must be able to identify and authenticate a person seeking disclosure of an individual’s health information. To do this, any individual requesting for ePHI must present an identifier, which is a way of uniquely identifying a person. This can be done by providing his birth date or social security number.

In addition, they’re expected to:

  • obtain authorization from the patient before disclosing any protected health information—that is, if a person requests someone’s information without approval from the patient, the covered entity must deny the request;
  • notify patients of any data breaches involving their health information; and
  • Ensure that any subcontractors who’ll have access to protected health information agree to safeguard it in the same way required by HIPAA.
  • HIPAA guidelines require covered entities to ensure that their workforce follows policies and procedures to protect patients’ ePHI. Thus, HIPAA-covered entities must train their workforce on how to protect their online accounts. They must also create a series of policies and technical safeguards that will prevent unauthorized access to ePHI or the device itself. This includes using multi-factor authentication, encryption, and implementing IT security policies for backups and system controls. 
  • Furthermore, training employees is vital to combat Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks occur when multiple computers flood one IP address with requests to deny a service access to legitimate users. One of the most effective ways for businesses to mitigate these attacks is by educating their employees on identifying and reporting suspicious emails.

By ensuring all covered entities and business associates abide by HIPAA guidelines, cyberattacks can be significantly reduced, and patient ePHI would be protected.  

Final Words

The implementation of HIPAA security standards can help to significantly reduce the number of cyberattacks and better protect patient information. By requiring all covered entities to be compliant with these regulations, they’re obligated to implement various cybersecurity measures, including encryption, firewalls, access controls, and many more.

All healthcare providers should take this measure as seriously as possible because it’s their responsibility and duty to protect patients’ data against potential breaches. 

Thank you for reading!

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