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10 Ways to protect your practice from a data breach


Healthcare records and data contain sensitive information, making them a prime target for cybercriminals. Learn how to protect your practice from a data breach.

As medical practices become increasingly dependent on digital systems, the threat of a data breach looms larger than ever. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed 337 breaches in the first half of 2022, affecting almost 20 million individuals.

Healthcare data breach statistics show that the average cost of a healthcare data breach is $10.1 million, which is much higher than in any other industry. It becomes clear that investing in data security is critical for hospitals and medical practices to protect themselves from the costly repercussions of data breaches.

This article explains what a data breach is and details how to protect your company from a data breach.

What Is a data breach?

A data breach is a cybersecurity incident where an individual or group gains access to an organization's confidential and sensitive data, intentionally or unintentionally. Such data can include personally identifiable information (PII), financial records, trade secrets, and other valuable and personal information.

Data breaches are a major concern for practices of all sizes, as they can result in significant financial and reputational damages. Common causes of data breaches include:

  • Security vulnerabilities in software and hardware systems
  • Human error (e.g., weak passwords, falling for phishing scams)
  • Hacking by malicious actors
  • The spread of malware (e.g., viruses, ransomware)
  • Insider misuse by employees with authorized access to sensitive information
  • Physical theft of electronic devices or storage media containing sensitive data

How to protect your practice from a data breach

A data breach can lead to significant financial losses and damage your practice’s reputation, eroding trust with your clients. Here are 10 best practices to avoid data breaches:

1. Develop a data security plan

Implementing a comprehensive data security plan is crucial to safeguard healthcare information and prevent breaches. To create a robust security plan, start with a risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Address any identified issues to minimize risk and continuously monitor for potential threats. It's important to regularly repeat these processes to ensure your practice remains protected against any potential data breaches.

2. Implement strong passwords

Passwords play a crucial role in preventing data breaches, with strong passwords offering even better protection. Hence, securing every system with a strong password is essential, limiting its knowledge only to authorized personnel.

You can use multi-factor authentication to ensure maximum security. Also, prohibit sharing passwords between authorized and unauthorized employees, even if they work in the same department.

3. Limit data access

Limiting data access is essential to mitigate your practice's cyber risk. While this may lead to delays in patient treatment, medical practices cannot compromise security. Therefore, adopting a role-based access control system is recommended. This restricts employees' data access to only what they need for work.

For instance, a nurse may have access to a patient's medical history and medication information, while the billing team may only have access to insurance information.

4. Regularly update software

Regular software updates are an often overlooked method for medical practices to safeguard against data breaches. It is common to assume that a software update only offers an improved functionality that is unnecessary. The reality is that such updates are often implemented to address identified bugs.

Neglecting to update your medical practice’s software increases the risk of exposing your operating systems and software to vulnerabilities.

5. Install firewalls and antivirus software

Your practice's database can be compromised by cybercriminals who exploit vulnerabilities in the firewall. These attackers may even resort to deploying malicious viruses to corrupt critical data.

A robust firewall can effectively thwart such data breaches, while antivirus software can significantly reduce the risk of a successful virus attack that could cause data corruption.

6. Encrypt data

Data encryption is a surefire way to protect your medical practice from a data breach. Data can be encrypted by converting plain text into code. Thus, if hackers gain access to the data, it will be useless to them. By implementing data encryption, you can add a layer of security to protect sensitive patient information.

7. Conduct regular security training

Regular security training can aid employees in readily recognizing data security attacks like phishing, which has recently become a prevalent issue. Cybersecurity training also instills a heightened sense of security awareness and vigilance among staff.

Employees will gain a better understanding of how their routine actions can impact the organization's security and learn how to respond to suspected data breaches or other cyber-related incidents appropriately.

8. Limit third-party access

Third parties, such as payers and managed care providers, play a crucial role in healthcare. However, their access to patient records also poses potential risks to patient privacy.

Insurance companies may require access to patient health records to evaluate eligibility for life, health, or disability insurance. This increased access to sensitive medical information can raise the potential for data breaches and privacy violations.

To mitigate these risks, medical practices can limit third-party access by implementing strict data access controls, monitoring and auditing third-party access, and encrypting patient data to ensure security. As a result, you can ensure that patient data remains confidential and secure while providing the necessary information to third parties.

9. Regularly backup data

Regular data backups are a critical tool in limiting the impact of a breach and reducing the cost and complexity of recovery efforts. Thus, they are essential in any practice's data security strategy.

With regular backups, you will not need to invest significant time and resources in identifying and recreating lost or corrupted data, which can be a complex and expensive process.

10. Create an incident response plan

Every comprehensive data security procedure must include an incident response plan. This crucial framework serves as a comprehensive document that outlines specific protocols and procedures for identifying, addressing, and minimizing the impact of a cyber-attack or data breach.

Establishing an incident response plan in your practice enables you to proactively prepare and respond effectively to potential security threats, safeguarding valuable data assets and minimizing disruption to operations.

Key takeaway

Protecting your medical practice from a data breach is critical in safeguarding sensitive patient information and avoiding costly repercussions. Here is a recap of the 10 best cybersecurity practices to prevent data breaches:

  1. Implement a comprehensive data security plan
  2. Use strong passwords
  3. Limit data access
  4. Regularly update software
  5. Install firewalls and antivirus software
  6. Encrypt data
  7. Conduct regular security training
  8. Limit third-party access
  9. Regularly back up data
  10. Create an incident response plan

By following these methods, medical practices can strengthen data security and protect against cyber threats.

Nick Rubright is an expert writer for FreeAgent CRM with experience in software development, security, and medical management

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