Every organization has plenty of reason to safeguard its precious customer, client, and vendor data — but if your organization must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), then your entire future could hinge on how well your IT system protects sensitive financial and medical information. Failure to comply with HIPAA requirements can incur devastating fines and ruin your reputation. That’s why you want to recognize the potential failure points in your current IT system and implement smart practices to button them up.
The Dangers of Non-Compliance
HIPAA aims to protect patient confidentiality by establishing and enforcing rigid standards for the sharing of data such as medical records, doctor visits, financial transactions, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and other sensitive personal information. Even an unintentional stumble in the securing of this data can cost you up to $50,000 per infraction, with potential penalties totaling up to $1.5 million per calendar year. Even if your organization could easily weather such burdens, it may not survive the resulting lack of trust from your clientele should the breach or violation go public. You absolutely must do whatever it takes to secure your sensitive data — and that means securing your IT system.
IT System Vulnerabilities
Unfortunately, there are many potential failure points in practically any enterprise-level IT system, permitting abuses both from without and from within. An outdated firewall or operating system can be breached by malware and hacking attempts, while data transferred to external devices can get lost or fall into the wrong hands. An unscrupulous employee can use the data for evil ends; even a trusted team member can accidentally leave the data open to public view.
Keeping Your Confidential Data Secure
The good news is that there are several things you can do to help ensure your IT system’s HIPAA compliance. Smart strategies include:
- Improving preventive security practices – Equip your IT system with vulnerability scanning so you know where its weak points lie. Use a DNS layer enterprise security system to help your employees steer clear of malicious re-directs and malware exploits. Invest in automated security updates so your system can ward off all the latest threats.
- Encrypting sensitive data – Encrypting files, folders, drives and even entire servers can help prevent the bad guys from seeing any data they shouldn’t. Many programs offer AES-256 encryption, the same level used by the U.S. government to protect its information.
- Controlling employee access – Assign a centrally-controlled Unique User Identifier to each person who needs to access sensitive information. This not only protects the data against unqualified personnel, but it also allows you to know exactly who is viewing which documentation. It also enables you to cancel that access at any time.
- Implementing automated logoffs – If it’s mobile, it can get lost or stolen. If you absolutely must use laptops or other mobile devices, set them so that they log the user out of the system automatically after the shortest possible period of non-use. Having the ability to wipe data from mobile devices remotely is another reassuring option.
- Using secure off-site storage – Even encrypted files can still be physically made off with. If you want to ensure that your data is safe from physical theft, maintain it on a secure off-site server. That way, if an unscrupulous person steals a laptop or other device from your organization, he won’t actually be in possession of any sensitive records.
If you’re like the vast majority of enterprises, you can’t afford HIPAA violations. While you’re updating your other office and employee practices to keep those violations from occurring, take the essential extra step of making your IT system as HIPAA-friendly as possible. Think of it as a form of preventive medicine!
At GXA, we help medical providers in the Dallas Fort-Worth area become and remain HIPAA complaint. If you’re concerned about your practice, get a free IT Assessment, and learn how GXA can help protect you and your patients’ data from internal and external cyber threats.