Ensuring that your addiction or substance use disorder rehabilitation facility is adhering to all HIPAA compliance rules and regulations requires the examination of several areas that are often major weaknesses. Rehabilitation facilities are aware of the threats to security and compliance, but don’t always know the best ways to protect themselves. If an organization is to protect themselves, their faculty, and their patients, they must be able to identify these weaknesses, strengthen them and have recovery plans in place in the event of an attack.
Mobile Device Security
The use of personal mobile and removable devices by addiction treatment professionals to communicate inarguably makes workflow easier and more efficient. However, this is a major source of vulnerability for organizations, as this sensitive information is now stored on a personal device. Several methods of protection need to be in place in order to better manage loss or stolen devices. Cell Phones and laptops need to have multiple layers of password protection in order to keep the data on these devices safe and to prevent access by unauthorized users. Using HIPAA messaging services in place of consumer texting apps help to keep PHI secure through encryption and remote wiping in the event of theft or loss.
Get Ahead of Threats and Breaches with Risk Analysis Protocols
Due to the highly sensitive nature of PHI, hackers are likely to attack healthcare facilities. According to the Ponemon Institute, cyberattacks are the leading cause of security breaches. A risk analysis allows an rehabilitation or treatment center to identify weak spots in their data management, communication policies, and hardware /software systems in order to improve IT security and put necessary safeguards in place. According to HIPAA, they should be conducted as frequently as possible. Identifying these vulnerabilities within a system is the first step, but what makes the ultimate difference is patching them up so as to prevent breaches or cyberattacks in the first place or have effective safeguards in place incase one is to occur.
Maintaining Care When Facing Cyberattacks and Malware
Mental health and substance abuse treatment data is exceptionally sensitive, causing breaches to have potentially serious personal repercussions for affected individuals and organization. HIPAA strictly requires that PHI is protected, available and amendable. Providers must continually update their softwares and hardwares in order to maintain their security. In the event of a cyberattack, backing up data when disconnected from the network will also allow for institutions to store and access data even if a hacker is holding the PHI for ransom. The more resources an organization has to ensure the safety of their networks, the less likely it will be they will suffer an attack. But in the event of a breach, this recovery plan along with preventative risk analyses allow institutions to continue providing care in the event of an attack.
Oftentimes employees may skip corners for the sake of time and convenience. However, these common and non-compliant practices may lead to breaches and HIPAA fines. For example, when a therapists, physician or employee sends PHI to their personal email accounts, they are risking the interception and the data by a hacker or non-authorized user causing facilities to face fines for violations. Emails containing PHI must be kept strictly to work email systems. Although employees know not to reuse or use the same password over multiple interfaces. If a hacker gains access to one password, they can potentially gain access to other interfaces, which could mean exponential threats to security across multiple levels. Facilities must properly train employees on the policies in place to remain HIPAA compliant and secure.
Ensuring Business Associate Accountability
Lastly, since therapists are considered covered entities under HIPAA, third party therapists that are not in-house providers must sign a Business Associate Agreements, indicating that they know how to remain HIPAA compliant and that they understand their liability in the event of a breach. Another issue to be mindful of is the use of accountable vendor services as well. Using solutions provided by vendors willing to sign a BAA solidifies accountability, ensuring that the tool or solution provider has all the necessary encryptions and features to protect data, patients and the organization. Business Associates are more equipped to protect their users and prevent the leak of sensitive PHI.
Because patients put a great deal of trust in the healthcare system to provide optimal care and protect their data, it’s important that facilities do everything in their power to ensure the safety of PHI.