In an era where healthcare organizations are increasingly reliant on digital systems and electronic health records (EHRs)—and the frequency and cost of data breaches continue to increase—the need for robust cybersecurity measures has become paramount. In 2022 alone, an average of roughly two healthcare data breaches occurred every day, compromising more than 500 records apiece on average.
Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions have emerged as vital safeguards for any organization’s cybersecurity posture, but particularly in the context of protecting sensitive healthcare information and ensuring compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
For healthcare providers to effectively protect themselves in 2023 and beyond, understanding the significance of IAM and focusing on the prevention of data breaches is imperative for ensuring uninterrupted operations and upholding HIPAA regulations.
Securing Patient Data
Healthcare organizations possess a wealth of confidential patient data, ranging from medical histories to social security numbers. Protecting this information from unauthorized access is not only essential for patient privacy but also to prevent potentially devastating consequences like identity theft or fraud.
Effective IAM systems enable healthcare providers to establish stringent access and governance processes, ensuring that only authorized individuals can access sensitive data. By implementing multi-factor authentication, data encryption, role-based access controls, and user plus third-party access governance parameters, IAM solutions minimize the risk of data breaches caused by compromised credentials or unauthorized access attempts.
This may sound basic at first, but when you consider the sheer number of entities that must be secured in different ways, including doctors, nurses, third-party vendors and all of the different devices used between them, it’s clear that mitigating the risk of a breach requires a detailed, coherent set of privileged access management (PAM) and identity governance & administration (IGA) guidelines managed by a dedicated team of experts.
Mitigating Data Breach Risks
Data breaches pose a significant threat to healthcare organizations, leading to reputational damage, legal liabilities, and financial losses even greater than most other industries. In fact, the cost per stolen record for healthcare organizations is 2.5x more than non-healthcare related organizations. In some extreme cases, a data breach can even force a hospital to shut down operations and divert patients elsewhere—a worst case scenario when trying to save lives.
Cybersecurity plays a pivotal role in mitigating these risks. The best platforms enable organizations to closely monitor user activities, detect anomalies, and respond swiftly to potential security incidents proactively. By providing centralized visibility and control over user access, IAM solutions allow for real-time identification of suspicious behaviors, such as unusual login attempts or unauthorized data transfers. Moreover, IAM systems facilitate the prompt revocation of access privileges in case of staff turnover or contract terminations, reducing the risk of insider threats.
The goal is to ensure every user only has access to exactly what they need and for only the time period in which they need it. In the case of a data breach, this reduces the amount of sensitive data that can be compromised.
Your internal access permissions need to be flexible and audited regularly to be effective, and it needs to be clear what patient data and device information can be shared with certain people and organizations. Otherwise, you could be oversharing patient data with an insurance company—violating HIPAA—or opening the door for a threat actor to compromise your entire organization instead of only a few records.
Ensuring HIPAA Compliance
HIPAA regulations serve as a critical framework for protecting patient data and establishing privacy standards in the healthcare industry, which is a noble cause but can be arduous to follow and track effectively. By implementing cybersecurity practices aligned with HIPAA guidelines, healthcare providers can streamline compliance processes, such as user authentication, audit logging, and access reviews.
A proactive cybersecurity platform with IAM at its core does exactly this by facilitating the creation of comprehensive user directories, robust user authentication mechanisms, and detailed audit trails, ensuring transparency and accountability. In the event of an audit or investigation, healthcare organizations can readily demonstrate their adherence to HIPAA regulations by leveraging real-time data and reports.
Plus, a modern IAM approach ensures patient data that does need to be transferred to another healthcare provider is done following specific security protocols, which could be done by encrypting it or by another method depending on your organization and location. Again, this is a process so sensitive that it should be reviewed and revamped at least yearly by a third-party organization to ensure there aren’t unforeseen gaps in your cyber defenses.
Being thoughtful about your healthcare organization’s IAM strategy by implementing stringent IAM guidelines will also protect your organization in other ways while making the user experience easier.
Doctors, for example, need higher privileges than medical students so they can control medical equipment like ventilators for patients when needed, while med students should absolutely have restricted privileges on the same equipment. IAM helps ensure this is the case without confusion, and in a quick, effective manner that leaves no room for error. Because errors here could mean a potential lawsuit.
In a year marked by escalating cybersecurity threats and regulatory scrutiny, healthcare organizations must prioritize IAM strategy and ensure it’s backed by a team and budget to match the high cost of a data breach. By safeguarding healthcare data, mitigating data breach risks, and upholding HIPAA compliance, IAM solutions are indispensable tools for maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture for your organization while protecting sensitive information and maintaining public trust in the healthcare ecosystem.
Chandrasekar Rajendrakumar is Director of Products Management - IGA for Simeio.