Mitigating Security Risks at Smaller Hospitals

Jan. 28, 2019
Smaller hospitals face the challenge of mitigating security risks with fewer resources. But it’s possible for healthcare organizations with small IT teams to develop the right culture and lessen risk

The healthcare industry must comply with a variety of regulations to keep patient data private and secure. This already-difficult task is made more so for community or small regional hospitals that have fewer resources and executive buy-in than larger health facilities. Smaller hospitals find it harder, therefore, to drive policies and ongoing monitoring and remediation efforts that keep security incidents low. However, it is possible for healthcare organizations that have small IT teams to develop a culture of privacy, security and compliance and gain the certified compliance and security acumen they need.

Complicating Security Factors

Because so many of the healthcare breach headlines involve huge conglomerates, smaller or regional hospitals tend to believe they don’t need the same level of security as the big players. They assume they can’t possibly be as attractive to cybercriminals as the big medical centers. But what they don’t know is that they are more likely to be targeted due to the perception that they have a weaker security protocol.

These days, smaller hospitals are not islands in themselves. For instance, many healthcare systems are leveraging each other’s IT systems, especially after a merger or acquisition. This is one of the factors that makes cybersecurity for smaller hospitals complex and difficult.

The shift to the cloud has also complicated matters. Healthcare organizations are storing vast amounts of sensitive or proprietary information. Smaller organizations are the gatekeepers to massive quantities of patients’ private health information but may not realize it. Privileged insiders like network administrators or users with elevated permissions have access to this information and may carelessly or maliciously misuse it, causing audits, exposure to risk and heavy fines.

How Patient Data Gets Intermingled

Large health and clinic systems, in contrast to smaller hospitals, typically have the resources and support to create strong, up-to-date privacy and security programs. This, in turn, allows them to better handle the full lifecycle of privacy and security incidents to drive risk down in their organizations.

Malicious actors work off the assumption that community hospitals have weaker security measures, but that is just the beginning. The wider problem is that the attack compromises more than just their data. These facilities are actually connected to bigger hospitals through systems that enable them to gain access to the larger organizations’ data as well.

As an example, a community hospital’s patient needs treatment that is only available at a larger healthcare facility. The smaller hospital sends that patient’s electronic health record to the larger one. This creates greater risk, as it allows for even more people to have access to patient records. This trend is increasing as the industry pushes for more access to health records. How is your small hospital going to protect them?

Security Tactics to Implement Now

To safeguard the privacy and security of patient data, whether kept in-house or exchanged with other care facilities, community and regional hospitals can do three important things:

Education and training

There are several ways that building a culture of security, accountability and compliance provides value. Training users on security and regulations contributes to a successful strategy. Governing and sanctioning offenders strengthens accountability, but also rewarding positive behavior will further strengthen your culture. The idea is to move towards preventing data breaches due to insider error rather than discovering them after the fact.

Work with a third party

It can be helpful to bring someone to walk alongside you to help monitor your system. A third party takes that extra monitoring load off IT’s plate and educates the community hospital about compliance regulations. A service like this can train new employees and conduct ongoing, targeted training that is more efficient. A third party can see that a certain region or department had the most violations in a specific time period and then provide training on proper use to protect both patient data and the organization.

Monitor the cloud          

To shore up trust among customers and avoid regulatory fines, monitor your cloud-based environment. Monitoring provides the added benefits of greater visibility into usage and adoption, performance and compliance. The more insight you have into how users are interacting with your applications, the more you can secure and optimize your business systems to produce the best outcomes possible.

Small Hospital, Big Security

Size does not exclude any hospital from the compliance regulations of the healthcare industry. Still, smaller hospitals face greater challenges in terms of funding, personnel and executive support. Hackers know this and tend to target regional and community hospitals, which is why these smaller facilities cannot afford to play small with their cybersecurity efforts. Following the steps outlined above will help these smaller organizations remain compliant and keep their patient data private and secure.

As the VP of customer success at FairWarning, Brian Stone helps healthcare customers to quickly and easily solve major pain points related to securing and keeping private sensitive information stored in mission critical applications, as well as addressing crucial requirements detailed in data protection regulations globally.

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