Patients rely on their doctors and other healthcare providers not just to care for their health, but also to protect their sensitive information. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to protect patient data, but that takes work. Read on to find out about nine ways that any healthcare organization can improve its data security to comply with HIPAA guidelines.

1. Switch to HIPPA-Compliant Electronic Services

Healthcare providers should never transmit sensitive information using ordinary email, faxes, or other communication methods. They need HIPAA fax and email services that can ensure privacy and security and make it easier to conduct audits and detect potential data breaches.

2. Educate Staff

Human error remains one of the most common sources of data losses and breaches, so make sure all healthcare providers and staff receive security awareness training. This gives them the knowledge they need to handle patient data safely.

3. Implement Access Controls

Implementing data access controls to restrict access only to those who need it to perform their jobs reduces risks. The best forms of access control use multi-factor authentication, which requires users to validate their identity using passwords, pins, keycards, or even biometrics like facial recognition, fingerprinting, or eye scans.

4. Log and Monitor Access and Use

Log all healthcare providers’ access to and usage of protected data. Keeping a proverbial paper trail will help organizations identify incidents and potential data breaches, discourage inappropriate handling of patient data, and provide valuable information for periodic security audits.

5. Encrypt All Data

All patient data should be encrypted both in transit and at rest. Data encryption adds an extra level of protection by ensuring that even if hackers are able to gain access to the data, they won’t be able to decipher it. HIPAA doesn’t specifically require data encryption, but healthcare providers should take the initiative to implement this additional security measure themselves.

6. Regulate Personal Mobile Device Use

Ideally, healthcare providers should only use secured devices to access sensitive information. However, many hospitals and other healthcare facilities allow doctors, nurses, and others to use personal mobile devices. They can still mitigate risk by educating employees on mobile device security, implementing guidelines for keeping devices updated, monitoring for malware infections and unauthorized data use, and ensuring that all employees use encryption and strong passwords.

7. Monitor the Internet of Things (IoT)

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can pose a security risk, but so can other smart devices. It’s important for facilities to continuously monitor IoT device networks, disable non-essential services, and use multi-factor authentication when possible.

8. Conduct Risk Assessments

Having an audit trail helps healthcare facilities identify data breaches after they have occurred, but proactive prevention is even more important. Conduct periodic risk assessments to identify potential security vulnerabilities in advance and work to resolve them.

9. Back-Up Data

Not all hackers steal patient data. Some restrict access using programs like ransomware. Keeping properly encrypted and secured data backed up off-site or in the cloud helps to avoid this problem.

The Bottom Line

Patients trust their doctors to do what’s best for their health and wellbeing. They should also be able to trust their healthcare facilities to protect their personal health data. Healthcare facilities should ensure that they are taking all the right steps to prevent data breaches and ransomware attacks and are always in compliance with HIPAA’s guidelines and recommendations.

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "9 Things Every Healthcare Organization Can Do to Protect Sensitive Patient Data," in Medicalopedia, August 5, 2020, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/9127/9-things-every-healthcare-organization-can-do-to-protect-sensitive-patient-data/].