Lack of Security Awareness Training Affects Medical Offices
It is extremely important for people who work in medical and clinical offices to undergo regular security awareness training. They must do this not only to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, particularly the HIPAA Security Rule but also to protect the integrity of the medical institution where they work.
Comprehensive training will also keep the staff up to date on the ever-changing IT security threats. This is crucial for electronically protected health information (ePHI). This encompasses medical information that is produced, saved, transferred, and received in electronic form. The security guidelines cover both ePHI data in transit and data at rest.
Data in transit includes all types of information that are currently being transmitted through a network or temporarily stored in the computer to be read or updated. Data at rest pertains to all types of medical information that are stored on the hard drive or servers of a storage area network. This data can also be located on an offsite backup service provider.
Considered a landmark piece of legislation when it was enacted in 1996 under the administration of President Bill Clinton, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures that healthcare data is safeguarded through privacy protections for patients and health plan members.
The act has gained greater prominence over the past few years with the increase of various health data breaches that stem from ransomware attacks and cyberattacks on medical offices.
The most common HIPAA violations include unauthorized access and improper disposal of protected health information, impermissible disclosures of health information, failure to limit those who can access medical information, sharing online or via social media without permission, and failure to provide HIPAA training and security awareness training.
Most of these violations are discovered through internal audit, patient reports, or reports by healthcare employees. The penalties for violating the rules set by HIPAA are severe. Aside from monetary penalties, there may also be criminal penalties when appropriate. There have been fines that have been issued amounting to up to $1.5 million per violation and penalties that may land violators up to 10 years in jail.
Security Awareness Training
One of the most common reasons for HIPAA violations is lack of training. When the workforce lacks training, it usually creates defensive weaknesses either through purposely compromised data or inadvertent data exposure.
To avoid a violation, the best thing to do is to undergo security awareness training. This is the most proactive way to avoid a violation. This administrative safeguard must be employed by a medical entity to educate workforce members about their security responsibilities.
Security awareness training mostly encompasses IT security and teaches employees how to handle electronically protected health information. The underlying purpose of this program is to ensure that the workforce understands and complies with their security responsibilities.
Most Common Reasons for Violating HIPAA Security Rule
Aside from the lack of training, there are other common reasons for violating the HIPAA security rule:
Lost or stolen devices
When desktops, laptops, or smartphones that contain pertinent information are stolen, it may result in violation fines. To protect data in these mobile devices, certain safeguards should be put into place, starting with password-protected authorization.
It is a big no-no to post patient photos on social media. This is a major breach of patient privacy.
Accessing patient information on private home computers or laptops.
This is a common unintended HIPAA violation – clinic workers accessing patient information using their laptops or home computers that are not password protected. This increases the risk of patient information being accessed or stolen.
Coverage of Security Awareness Training
Proper security awareness training should include periodic security reminders and updates, protection from malicious software, password management, and log-in monitoring.
Security Reminders and Updates
It is the medical office’s responsibility to periodically distribute security reminders and updates. This should be ideally done every week because the organization’s vulnerabilities to security incidents usually change with technology updates and its internal infrastructure and business processes. The frequency of the reminders also emphasizes the importance of ePHI privacy and security.
Protection from Malicious Software
Sufficient training must be implemented so that employees can guard against and be able to report malicious software. The goal is for any member of the medical office workforce who has access to ePHI to immediately identify the symptoms of malicious software. There should also be protocols for reporting such incidences.
Training should be given to employees in creating, changing, and protecting secure passwords. Since password requirements usually change over time, password management guidelines should be periodically reviewed to ensure its effectiveness.
There should be training in identifying inconsistencies in log-in procedures, particularly in detecting suspicious log-in activities. They should also be trained in proper reporting procedures and response plans.
Cybersecurity Attack Protocols
Healthcare employees must be aware of what steps to take following a cybersecurity attack or data breach.
Healthcare organizations must be able to cultivate a better cybersecurity culture. This means that employees must not only receive frequent training but more importantly, quality training. Employees at all levels should understand the impact of their roles in the overall security of the organization.