Safeguarding patient data is of utmost importance for healthcare professionals and organizations. To help our partners continue to meet HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance, we’re sharing a few tips for Cybersecurity Awareness Month.
1. Set Up Access and Controls
Access to patient records and sensitive data should be limited to authorized personnel only.
“Role-based access controls (RBAC) are used to assign permissions based on job functions,” explained John Garcia, Information Security Manager at Pixel Health. “We recommend following the principle of ‘least privilege,’ which provides employees with the minimum access necessary to perform their tasks.”
Strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), provide another layer of protection to help ensure secure access. Access controls should be reviewed periodically, and an audit trail can determine who accesses patient records and when. These steps allow for tracking and accountability in case of any breaches or unauthorized access.
“If you work with third-party vendors or partners, ensure they also adhere to HIPAA standards using a business associate agreement along with annual auditing,” added John. “Any entity that handles patient data should meet the same security requirements.”
2. Monitor Data Security, Encryption, and Disposal
Encryption of patient data—both at rest and in transit—adds an extra layer of protection, making it significantly harder for unauthorized parties to access or intercept data.
“Employees should only use secure channels and encrypted communication tools for sharing patient information; they should avoid using regular email for transmitting sensitive data,” said John. “All company-owned devices (computers, tablets, smartphones) used to access patient data must be secure and up to date and listed on an inventory sheet. Promptly installing security patches as they become available can also help prevent vulnerabilities.”
If an organization allows Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), it should establish strict policies for using personal devices for work purposes.
Finally, when patient records and data are no longer needed, there should be a plan for proper disposal. This plan can include securely erasing electronic data and shredding physical documents. In addition, hardware replacement disposal plans also need to be considered, for instance, if an organization is doing a hardware “refresh”, the old hardware must be properly wiped and disposed of as well.
3. Streamline Onboarding and Offboarding
Regular employee training is a key part of ongoing cybersecurity awareness. New employees should be trained on the importance of data security, password hygiene, and company policies.
Any staff members handling patient data should understand the importance of secure practices and be aware of common threats like phishing.
“A healthcare organization should ensure patient data access is aligned with an employees’ role to prevent unnecessary exposure,” said John. “They can then regularly review and adjust permissions as roles evolve.”
When an employee leaves the organization, it’s important to securely transfer or backup any data owned by the departing employee to prevent data loss and ensure a smooth transition. Any company devices used by the outgoing employee must be wiped of all sensitive information before reassignment.
At the same time, any access to all systems and data must be promptly revoked to prevent a former employee from retaining access post-departure
4. Plan Ahead for the Unexpected
While no one can anticipate cyberattack, having comprehensive incident response plan helps outline steps to take in case of a data breach. Here, timing and response is crucial to mitigate the impact.
“Our team at Pixel Health performs HIPAA compliance assessments for our healthcare partners,” said John. “With regular reviews and scenario exercises, we can identify risks, determine where we can best support an organization, and take action to improve cybersecurity practices,” said John.
Pixel Health offers the KnowBe4® solution, which provides customizable, targeted training to keep employees up to date on best practices in cybersecurity. Get in touch to learn more about how our team can help reduce your security risks—and keep your employees and data safe.