Health care’s huge cybersecurity problem shows no signs of going away anytime soon, with 45 million people being impacted by healthcare data attacks in 2021 (it was 34 million in 2020). 

The main cause was hacking, and it wasn’t only directed at healthcare providers; health plans, business associates and third-party vendors were also targeted. These breaches compromise privacy and lead to direct financial losses, but can also result in HIPAA violations that pile on additional penalties that can cause companies to go under for good. 

The Importance of Following HIPAA Regulations

The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has administrative, physical and technical safeguards that are constantly evolving to keep pace with cybersecurity, telehealth and other concerns. 

It is U.S. legislation that sets the standards for handling sensitive medical information; staying in compliance with all of them is not easy, and having an expert to rely on is key for success. 

  • Employees who unknowingly break HIPAA rules (because of a lack of training) must document the training (if any) that was provided. Employers will be at fault, since they are legally obligated to provide necessary, HIPAA-compliant training.
  • HIPAA violation penalties are issued by state attorney generals and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights.

Basics of HIPAA-Compliant IT Control

To meet HIPAA access and authentication requirements, companies must assign unique usernames/ID numbers to track user activities and enforce automatic log-off procedures to end idle network sessions. 

Staff should not use credentials across multiple systems, should update access to enforce “least privilege” and have proven procedures for accessing electronic protected health information (ePHI) in the event of an emergency. Multi-factor authentication should also be employed.

HIPAA also requires technical requirements for audit controls, like application audit trails to log user activities and system level audit trails user activity tracking with ePHI. Data integrity must also be ensured, as the information must not be “altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner.” 

This can be done through systems that track unauthorized changes, protections that monitor key system files for unauthorized users and strict company policies for using hard copies of ePHI information. There must also be data encryption protocols in place for transmitting this data.

Categories of HIPAA Protected Data

There are four levels of HIPAA protected data to be aware of. The first is public, which can be distributed and accessed by anyone but still protected from unauthorized changes. 

Internal data includes inside company communications like memos. These can be restricted to staff members and other authorized parties. Hospital or clinic-wide memos to staff should never contain patient health information, including names, addresses or diagnosis. 

Confidential data is personal healthcare information, like cardholder data and security data – things that could lead to personal distress or significant data if leaked. To safeguard against confidential data being leaked, ensure that all email communications are encrypted. 

Finally, restricted information might be research data or intellectual property that is protected by state or federal laws. In cases like this most often the research data is coming from major teaching hospitals and failure to protect this restricted information can result in large fines.

How a MSP Can Prevent HIPAA Violations

A Managed Services Provider (MSP) delivers IT infrastructure, network, application and security services through an initial setup and ongoing administration and support services. 

They can offer customized solutions for different kinds of networks, hardware, software and business industries. With healthcare, the focus is on the IT that keeps these companies operating at peak performance while protecting them from internal and external threats. 

Remaining compliant with HIPAA regulations is a big part of this, as malware attacks and network interruptions can create significant risks for these providers and their patients. 

And again, HIPAA violation penalties can be quite significant and can slow down or halt operations for long periods of time. 

At TAG Solutions, we pride ourselves on providing best practice services for healthcare clients, and our ability to stay on top of HIPAA regulations. To learn more, contact us online or call our offices at 800-724-0023.