How to Avoid a Healthcare Data Emergency

How to Avoid a Healthcare Data Emergency

By Isaac Kohen

As healthcare companies grapple with a post-COVID-19 landscape, securing data in an increasingly digital environment is paramount for regulatory compliance, patient care, and employee satisfaction.

High-quality patient care increasingly combines art and science as doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals combine hard-earned expertise with data-driven, technology-enabled treatments to deliver better patient outcomes.

As the pharmaceutical and medical diagnostic company Roche describes it: “The future is patient-centric and data-driven.”

To prepare, healthcare providers are shifting personnel and investments to ready their operations for the present and future of patient care. Healthcare IT budgets grew by nearly 10% in 2019, a trend that is only enhanced by pandemic-adjusted operational realities. In addition, it’s estimated that healthcare companies will spend more than $9 billion on data storage by 2027, a significant increase from the $2.4 billion spent in 2018.

The recent pandemic accelerated these trends, making telehealth, remote work, and other technology-driven initiatives more critical than ever. In response, IT leaders will need to update their approach to data privacy, cybersecurity, and regulatory compliance to ensure that their companies are prepared to thrive in this new industry framework. Employee monitoring can help oversee this innovative moment. Here are three steps every healthcare provider can take to immediately update their cybersecurity and data privacy efforts.

1. Establish and Enforce Data Management Best Practices for a Hybrid Workforce.

Remote teams and telehealth services expand healthcare providers’ defensive landscape, requiring updated best practices to keep patient data secure. Everything from unsecured internet connections to accessing patient data on personal devices threatens to undermine these efforts; however, a comprehensive data management policy can equip employees to mitigate risk and promote compliance. This should include:

  • Phishing scam identification. Healthcare workers have been inundated with phishing scams since the onset of COVID-19. While each malicious message puts data privacy at risk, they are harmless when employees identify, report, and destroy these messages. Ongoing, active training can empower employees to do this effectively.
  • Account security. Most people never change their account passwords, and many reuse the same password across multiple platforms. Require and prompt employees to regularly update their passwords.
  • Data management. Healthcare employees should use company-issued devices to access, transmit, and share patient data. Provide adequate resources, and require employees to use them.
  • Compliance readiness. For many workers, regulatory compliance isn’t top of mind as they go about their day-to-day business. Training employees to support this priority helps everyone make compliance a concern.

Of course, even the best training efforts can’t always prevent a data privacy failure or compliance lapse. For instance, Gartner reports that employees not following proper procedures when accessing and sharing patient data is the most common cause of protected health information (PHI) breaches. Employee monitoring software holds workers accountable for following best practices, helping transform a vulnerability into a defensive asset.

2. Prevent Data Loss from Anywhere.

Healthcare IT teams are exhausted and burning out. Even as they work to stand up telehealth services, empower remote workers, and defend against a growing threat landscape, the potential for failure continues to escalate. The right employee monitoring software reduces this burden by automating threat detection and minimizing the number of alerts that cross their desks.

For example, employee monitoring software analyzes user behavior to develop the capacity to differentiate between an employee working a different shift and someone displaying unusual data access habits. When threats emerge, it can warn IT administrators while also taking action by blocking the employee from accessing company data.

When coupled with endpoint data loss prevention capacity, IT teams can have better confidence that their employees working on-site and those distributed to disparate locations are less likely to cause a cybersecurity risk or compliance failure.

3. Learn, Grow, and Improve.

These are transformative times for the healthcare industry, and they are unlikely to come without complications and, to some degree, failures. That’s why companies need the capacity to analyze audit and forensic data if an incident occurs. This information provides insights into specific incidents while also providing data-driven discernment to power continual improvement.

At the same time, this information supports cybersecurity and compliance efforts by providing the documentation and reports to demonstrate efficacy in every operational environment. As Richard Tarpey, Ph.D., the assistant professor in the Jones College at Middle Tennessee State University, explains, “compliance is not flexible based on the location of the workforce. It is absolutely reasonable to expect the same level of security for remote workers as is in place for employees on company property.”

Employee monitoring software delivers the capacity to ensure providers are meeting these standards while creating a roadmap for future growth and improvement.

A Closing Encouragement

Healthcare is a life-or-death industry full of talented professionals, compassionate caregivers, and cutting-edge innovation. Cybersecurity and regulatory compliance pale in importance when compared to these industry pillars, but they are, in many ways, a part of the foundation that stabilizes the sector, allowing providers to be dynamic and agile in their pursuit of best-in-class patient care. These three steps are just the beginning of these cybersecurity compliance efforts, but they are meaningful actions that will help prevent a healthcare data disaster today.

Isaac Kohen is the vice president of R&D at Teramind, a leading global provider of employee monitoring, data loss prevention, and workplace productivity solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @teramindco.