9 Best Practices for Ensuring Cloud Compliance of Healthcare Data

17 Sep 2021 by Brett Haines

For a sector that has traditionally lagged behind its peers, the healthcare sector is leading the way in cloud computing adoption. As per the West Monroe Partners study, 35% of healthcare facilities surveyed stored more than 50% of their records or infrastructural facilities in the cloud. While compared to other sectors, healthcare has proven to be one of the furthest along with cloud adoption. For example, in comparison, 31% of energy and utility companies and 18% of financial services companies used the cloud to store 50 percent of company data or infrastructure.

Healthcare organizations face more significant risks compared to other businesses when it comes to data breaches and additional privacy and security concerns. For example, patients and practitioners exchange personal information, such as contact information, for mutual benefits gained through collaboration, making them susceptible to data breach risks.

Cloud hosting has been widely adopted by businesses worldwide, and adoption rates in the healthcare industry have been high compared to most sectors. Healthcare CIOs and other senior HIT executives are responsible for securing and protecting patient data, adhering to HIPAA regulations, and leveraging technological innovations to reduce costs and improve performance. As a result of the high level of regulations, there is a risk-averse technology culture in some portions of the healthcare industry that rewards the status quo and slows progress.

Following best practices in healthcare cloud computing is your roadmap to reaping all of the benefits of the cloud while ensuring HIPAA compliant cloud hosting and adhering to the highest data security standards.

Because cybersecurity threats are evolving rapidly in the healthcare industry, a multi-faceted and sophisticated approach should be implemented to protect customer data. Following these best practices could help healthcare businesses keep potential security threats at bay:

1. Conduct Cloud Compliance Training for Healthcare Personnel

When it comes to privacy incidents, there will usually be an apparent human element at work. Unfortunately, incidents like these are typical in the healthcare industry. Staff cybersecurity training provides your staff with the knowledge they need to handle patient data appropriately, and it will also prevent them from making rash decisions that jeopardize the business's security while also making your staff aware of common and uncommon mistakes made by employees that they might not think of otherwise.

2. Implement Data and Application Access Controls

Restriction of access to sensitive patient data and critical applications strengthens healthcare cybersecurity even further. User-based access controls also ensure that sensitive data is only accessible to those who are required to have access to perform their job responsibilities. Multi-factor authentication methods such as secure PIN or password, security key, fingerprints, or eye scanning in tangent to username and passwords may be used to ensure that the person trying to access does indeed have permission to access critical applications and user data.

3. Establish Data Usage Controls

Healthcare organizations can detect and block malicious or risky data activity in real-time by implementing reasonable restrictions on data usage operations. Specific delicate data-related activities should be prohibited, like uploading to the web, copying data to external sources, and sending unapproved emails.

4. Log and Monitor Data Usage and Access

By logging and monitoring access and data usage, IT managers can determine all information and details accessed or which applications and resources were used across the organization. Most IT Managers will preset thresholds for alerting of such activity since it is not possible with today’s workloads to have a single human being able to review server logs of activity. This aids in the detection of suspicious activities and the implementation of security controls where necessary. In a security incident, healthcare organizations will precisely locate where the error has occurred and find solutions for its causes and efficient mitigation strategies.

5. Whenever Possible, Encrypt Data

Encryption is without a doubt one of the most critical security measures in healthcare organizations. Encryption ensures that even if hackers obtain patient information files, they cannot use the information in any situation without the ability to decrypt the data. HIPAA advises healthcare organizations to implement stringent data encryption strategies based on data flow within the organization.

6. Pay Attention to Mobile Device Security

Mobile devices used in the healthcare sector have grown dramatically over the years, with many organizationsdeveloping healthcare mobile apps for practitioners and patients. Healthcare professionals use it to obtain patient records to treat patients effectively, and officials may use it to process medical insurance coverage. It is critical to safeguard the security of such portable devices, i.e., mobile devices.

A few practices to assure mobile device security inside the healthcare industry include:

  • Using complex passwords and multi-factor authentication
  • The ability to track, lock, and remotely wipe lost or stolen devices
  • Encrypting data in transit, data at rest, and live stored data
  • Monitoring device health to prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited and ensuring devices are patched and updated as much as possible

7. Eliminate the Risk of Connected Devices

Connected devices have become extremely common because of the rapid development of technologies like IoT and AI. There are so many types of devices in the healthcare industry, which all are constantly connected to the network and hold patient data. Here are some safety precautions that should be put in place to eliminate risks in devices like these.

  • Install security patches and keep your connected devices updated.
  • Decommission any unsupported or end-of-life devices immediately.
  • Set up a multifactor authentication system for any user access to devices.
  • Before using the devices, disable any unnecessary features and only capture the data you need while ensuring any stored data meets your data security requirements.
  • Keep an eye on access attempts and usage to spot any suspicious activity.
  • Keep network separation if possible for IoT devices and where critical data is stored to reduce the number of systems that could be vulnerable if a break of an IoT device does happen.

8. Perform Vulnerability Assessments Regularly

A critical part of a proactive security strategy is performing vulnerability assessments regularly. Assessments like these will help identify where the company’s infrastructure is weak; they will also highlight where employees and vendors lack security readiness. Regular vulnerability assessments assist healthcare organizations in proactively identifying elements of the possible threat and eliminating them to avoid expensive data breaches and their negative consequences. It is suggested to have the vulnerability assessment performed every two weeks on an automated schedule to ensure that any new known vulnerabilities are scanned for quickly so they can be patched with the same urgency.

9. Back-Up Sensitive Data Securely


Data breaches in the healthcare sector can disclose patient information and jeopardize the integrity and availability of the data stored in the system. Therefore, backups of patient data are essential for healthcare organizations because they can't afford to lose their most important asset.

Offsite backups of data should be made to protect the data currently in use as a minimum level of redundancy. Additional security measures such as encryption and access controls will help add extra layers of protection. Apart from addressing cybersecurity concerns, data backups will be beneficial in disaster recovery for an organization. If your healthcare organization is utilizing mission-critical servers, it is highly recommended to not stop at just offsite backups but to also pursue active/active diverse locations just in case there is a disaster declared at one location. Data availability is the cornerstone of HIPAA compliance, so ensuring that data is available to the level of your business requirements is critical.

Conclusion

According to various security experts, these data breaches in the healthcare industry will continue happening. In addition, the use of mobile and cloud platforms in the healthcare industry will make it more vulnerable to extruder attacks. Therefore, we must be aware of all risks to navigate potential data privacy and security threats in the healthcare industry.


Get Help with HIPAA Compliance

Atlantic.Net stands ready to help you attain fast compliance with a range of certifications, such as SOC 2 and SOC 3, HIPAA, and HITECH, all with 24x7x365 support, monitoring, and world-class data center infrastructure. For faster application deployment, free IT architecture design, and assessment, call 888-618-DATA (3282), or visit www.atlantic.net.

Author

Brett Haines

As Vice President for Atlantic.Net, Brett continues to use new and creative ways to increase quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. With over 15 years of sales, networking, technology, and management experience, Brett is directly responsible for overseeing the Sales, Sales Engineering, and Product Management teams.

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