As healthcare technology continues to advance, the security of patient data is more critical than ever. With electronic records and other digital information used daily, healthcare practices must take steps to protect sensitive patient information from cyber threats.
In February 2023, Banner Health, a nonprofit health system headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, paid a settlement of $1,250,000 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights to resolve a data breach that disclosed the information of nearly 3 million consumers. This is only one of many examples reflecting the cost implications that data breaches can have in the health sector.
Do you have measures like practice policies in place to manage data security risks and help ensure patient data is protected? By prioritising data security, your healthcare practice can provide patients with peace of mind that your practice is serious about keeping their personal information safe and secure.
Here are nine common data security mistakes healthcare practices make and how to avoid them.
Security Mistake #1: Using Weak Passwords
People often choose easy-to-guess passwords for their electronic devices and the programs or applications they use. When a health practitioner does this, it leaves sensitive patient information vulnerable to cybercriminals.
One way to ensure that team members in a health practice know and implement best practices regarding strong passwords is to incorporate them into your practice policies.
To be clear, use strong passwords:
- When accessing any device on which patient data can be accessed.
- When accessing any programs or applications, such as practice management software or electronic medical records (EMR) software, that process and store patient data.
When setting passwords, it’s critical that they’re at least 8 to 12 characters long and include a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
Look for practice management software that requires the use of strong passwords. It’s also worth considering using a password manager to generate and store strong, unique passwords for each team member in health practice. This reduces the risk of password reuse and makes it easier to enforce password policies. LastPass, 1Password, and Bitwarden are just a few of the password managers available.
Security Mistake #2: Using Screensavers Without Password Protection
Leaving computers unattended with active screensavers that don’t require a password to unlock is a security risk, as anyone could access sensitive information without permission. To avoid this, healthcare practices should ensure that all screensavers are password-protected, and adjust system settings to require a password immedia/sites/2tely after the screensaver begins or the display is turned off.
Add an extra layer of security to your systems and devices by using 2-Factor Authentication (2FA). This means that, apart from using a password, you’ll also be supplying an extra security token, like biometric data or a code sent to your cell phone, before you can access the system. It may seem like a time-consuming irritation, but in reality, it’s small fry compared to the implications of a data breach for your patients and your health practice.
Security Mistake #3: Failure to Adequately Train Employees
Team members in your health practice may unintentionally compromise data security if they aren’t properly trained on the policies and procedures of their workplace. Therefore it’s essential to provide training on data security and best practices for those working in the office and those working remotely.
Training will mitigate risks like:
- Data breaches happening as a result of accidental or unintentional disclosure of sensitive patient information by team members.
- Team members downloading malware or other malicious software, leading to data breaches.
- Fraud and identity theft due to phishing attacks.
- Non-compliance with data protection regulations and industry standards.
Apart from training employees on data security policies and procedures, you should also ensure that you enforce policies and take corrective action in cases of non-adherence.
When educating your team members on data security best practices:
- Provide Regular Training Sessions: Schedule regular training sessions for employees to review data security policies and best practices. Sessions should include training on the proper handling and disposal of sensitive information, password management, email security, and other relevant topics.
- Conduct Mock Phishing Tests: Mock phishing tests can help employees recognise phishing emails and prevent them from falling victim to phishing attacks. This can be done by sending out simulated phishing emails to employees and tracking how many fall for the simulated attack.
Encourage a culture of security within your healthcare practice by emphasising the importance of data security and making it a priority for all employees. This can include rewarding employees who identify potential security threats or suggest improvements to data security policies and procedures.
Power Diary’s customisable Practice Operations Manual makes it easy to develop and detail your data security and training policies. It’s prepopulated with configurable templates to help you get going, and it can be viewed by team members to speed up their training on practice policies.
Security Mistake #4: Sharing Practice Management Software Accounts
Sharing practice management software accounts increases the risk of unauthorised access to sensitive patient data. Therefore, each team member should have unique login credentials and strict user permissions to ensure accountability and reduce the risk of data breaches. In addition, it’s critically important that team members know it’s unacceptable to share their passwords with each other.
With Power Diary, you can track all users’ activity within their accounts by checking the Activity Log File.
Security Mistake #5: Failing to Regularly Update Software
Failure to regularly update software leaves healthcare practices vulnerable to cyberattacks. Cybercriminals often exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software to gain access to sensitive data. Outdated software also may be unable to properly save or recover data, leading to the loss of critical patient information. Moreover, outdated software may not comply with data protection regulations and industry standards, resulting in legal and regulatory penalties.
As such, it’s crucial to ensure that all software is updated regularly to prevent data breaches.
Here are some tips for keeping software updated:
- Enable Automatic Updates: Enable automatic updates for operating systems, software applications, and web browsers to ensure that all software is up-to-date and that any security vulnerabilities are patched promptly.
- Regularly Check for Updates: Regularly check for software updates and install them as soon as possible. This can be done manually or through a patch management system.
- Use Antivirus Software: Install and regularly update antivirus software to protect against malware and other types of cyber threats.
- Monitor End-of-Life Software: Monitor end-of-life software to ensure that it isn’t being used in your healthcare practice. End-of-life software is no longer supported by vendors and is vulnerable to security breaches.
When you choose Power Diary’s cloud-based practice management software, the Power Diary system is automatically updated. However, it’s still important to ensure that your browsers and hardware are current with the latest security updates.
Security Mistake #6: Failing to Secure Networks
When the networks in your practice are unsecured, you risk someone gaining unauthorised access to your systems, malware infections, identity theft and fraud, non-compliance with data protection regulations and industry standards, and legal and regulatory penalties.
Here are some ways to secure the networks in your practice:
- Encrypt Data: Use encryption to protect sensitive patient information when it is transmitted over the network.
- Use Firewalls: Use firewalls to control access to the network and prevent unauthorised access.
- Use VPNs: Use virtual private networks (VPNs) to securely connect remote workers to the healthcare practice’s network.
- Regularly Monitor Networks: Regularly monitor network activity to identify any suspicious activity or potential data breaches.
In addition, here are ideas for developing network security policies that will stand you in good stead:
- Develop a Network Security Plan: Develop a comprehensive network security plan that includes policies and procedures for securing the network and protecting sensitive patient information.
- Conduct Regular Risk Assessments: Conduct regular risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities in the network and take appropriate measures to address them.
- Enforce Network Access Controls: Enforce network access controls to limit access to sensitive patient information to authorised personnel only.
Last but not least (and as mentioned before), train employees regularly on network security risks and best practices.
Make sure your network port isn’t in a publicly accessible space. A publicly accessible network port can leave healthcare practices vulnerable to unauthorised access. It’s essential to ensure that physical network ports are located in secure areas to prevent data breaches.
Security Mistake #7: Disposing of Data and Hardware Incorrectly
Disposals of data and hardware, such as throwing away old computers, hard drives, and hard copies of patient information, can give unauthorised persons access to sensitive patient data when not carefully done. For this reason, it’s crucial to properly dispose of hardware by securely erasing all data before disposal and securely shredding hard copies containing sensitive information.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre provides guidelines for secure device disposal and recommends that if the information on a device is particularly sensitive, you should consider using a data destruction service or consulting with an IT professional to ensure secure disposal.
With regard to data disposal policies, develop a comprehensive data disposal plan that includes policies and procedures for securely disposing of sensitive patient information. This policy should be regularly reviewed, and once again, team members should be trained on it regularly.
Security Mistake #8: Keeping Paper Records
Keeping patient records on paper increases the risk of theft and irrecoverable losses, whether due to carelessness or something like a fire breaking out. It’s essential to digitise all patient records and ensure they’re stored in a secure location. This will reduce the risk of data breaches, data loss and ensure that patient information is always available when needed.
The best and safest way to digitise patient records is by using cloud-based practice management software like Power Diary. Should a device get stolen or damaged, the software can be securely accessed from another device without loss of information.
Proper password protection and implementing the other security measures already described will also help mitigate risks from a lost or stolen device.
Security Mistake #9: Not Using Secure, ISO 27001 Certified Practice Management Software
How do you know if your software is secure? When it meets strict, externally-assessed requirements like those of ISO 27001, you can rest assured that best practices are being adhered to regarding information security, including risk management, access control, data backup, and business continuity.
When deciding on a system to use, make sure you look out for wording that confirms the software itself is ISO 27001 certified.
At Power Diary, we’re proud of our ISO 27001 certification, as it represents the ongoing hard work that we put into keeping data secure.
Securing Your Practice Data Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult or Stressful!
Data security is crucial in healthcare practices, and taking the necessary steps to protect sensitive patient information is essential. Avoiding common data security mistakes like weak passwords, a lack of staff training, shared accounts, and using outdated software will go a long way to ensuring that sensitive data related to your healthcare practice remains secure and confidential.
Implementing staff training and data security policies and procedures takes time and effort. But, it’s a non-negotiable requirement for maintaining business continuity and upholding the reputation of your healthcare practice in today’s world.
With its ISO 27001 certification, Power Diary proves it’s among the most secure practice management software options available. We offer a free trial to give you the chance to see just how effective it is, not only for data protection but also for the growth of your practice. Try it out to see what peace of mind can look like today!