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Building Patient Trust by Nurturing a Culture of Privacy

Creating and maintaining a culture of data privacy in your organization is vital in today’s digitally-driven healthcare industry. As your practice increasingly relies on technology to diagnose, treat, and monitor patient health, the data that feeds your systems has become an essential tool. Even though regulatory compliance legislation such as the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires you to implement and enforce appropriate controls, protectingyour patient’s confidentiality should be a crucial part of your general care.

According to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, healthcare was the only industry where the number of security incidents caused by insiders was higher than those caused by external actors. Many of these incidents were not malicious by nature. Human error still played a significant part in many data breaches involving healthcare information. 

Creating and maintaining a culture of privacy can mitigate the risk of your organization becoming another statistic. It can also help you and your practice build and nurture patient trust, which is a vital element in any healthcare relationship.

Policies and Procedures

The first step in creating a culture of privacy is to develop relevant policies and procedures . These essential security artifacts educate employees on how to handle sensitive data and how to react to various risks and incidents. They also keep the entire organization staff aligned with its regular security practices. 

However, it is vital that you keep your policies updated as information security is a fluid practice. You should regularly conduct assessments to ascertain who has access to confidential patient data, make the relevant individuals accountable for monitoring privacy, and take an inventory of systems that contain protected information.

Conduct Regular Security Assessments

Conducting regular security assessments helps you understand the current security posture of your healthcare organization. Having a clear view of your practice’s strengths and weaknesses aids you in formulating a culture of privacy. By identifying possible loopholes in your system defenses, security assessments are a vital tool in ensuring your policies and procedures are relevant. By highlighting potential weaknesses, they not only help you strengthen your system defenses, but are also useful in educating your staff. A culture of privacy starts and ends with your employees, and a security risk assessment is an excellent tool that illustrates the potential dangers of weak security practices.

Cybersecurity Awareness Training

With information security, employees are your first and last line of defense. As your staff members interact with your systems and patients, they are the cornerstone of any cybersecurity strategy. Creating and maintaining a culture of privacy in your healthcare organization requires the involvement of every employee, contractor, and vendor in your practice. 

Cybersecurity awareness training is a critical element in any information security strategy. Hackers often target the human element in any business as it is typically the weakest link in the security chain. Educating your staff members in vital information security topics is a crucial defensive measure. However, cybersecurity awareness training can also nurture a culture of privacy. By making employees aware of the risks, it can instill the behavioral changes needed to ensure patient confidentiality.

Develop a Shared Cybersecurity Mindset

Effective cybersecurity is a composite blend of people, process, and technology. Under HIPAA, both covered entities and business associates that process or store electronically Protected Healthcare Information (ePHI), must comply with HIPAA regulations. Technology and policies cannot protect data if people do not follow the rules. 

Creating a culture of privacy should not end with your employees but extend to any other individuals or organizations that access your ePHI. Establishing this shared mindset not only strengthens your security but fosters a shared cybersecurity mindset across all your associates and vendors. 

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Any initiative should take a top-down approach to set an example for the lower levels of the organization. It is therefore essential that management and ownership across your partners and vendors understand and buy into any privacy culture initiatives.

Creating a Culture of Privacy Requires a Multi-Faceted Approach

Creating and maintaining a culture of privacy in your healthcare organization cannot be a one-time exercise. An active culture of privacy is dynamic and needs to morph and transform - as your practice and the cybersecurity environment it operates in changes. 

Maintaining relevant policies and procedures and conducting regular security assessments are vital in achieving this goal. However, as employees are the cornerstone of any culture, cybersecurity awareness training and extending the cybersecurity mindset to your business associates, is vital in ensuring an effective culture of privacy. 

Your Practical Guide to HIPAA Compliance 24By7Security

Rupal Talati, HCISPP
Rupal Talati, HCISPP

Rupal Talati is a Security Analyst with 24By7Security, specializing in HIPAA security risk assessments and relationship management and liaison with clients. In addition to her certification as a Health Care Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP), Rupal has a strong technical background with an Master of Science in Computer Science from Long Island University, New York, and a Master of Science in Physics, Electronics/Telecommunications from Gujarat University, India.

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