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Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

HIPAA Security: Healthcare Data Breaches on the Rise

Posted by Paul Taylor on May 29, 2012 9:32:00 AM

HIPAA SecurityIn a highly digitized environment, identity theft poses a great risk if the necessary safeguards are not utilized. It is paramount that businesses and consumers are made aware of the massive repercussions a data breach of patient info can result in--such as identity theft of patients, as well as financial damage to and reputation loss of healthcare organizations. Current HIPAA regulations mandate that if a data breach occurs, then the organization responsible for that breach must reported it to Health and Human Services (HHS), pay thousands or millions of dollars in fines, and may have to report the breach to the media.  However, if your organization’s data is securely encrypted, you will be exempt from these repercussions.

Despite Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) security laws, healthcare data breaches are on the rise. According to the Ponemon Institute, the healthcare industry has lost more than $6.5 billion dollars due to data breaches.

Ponemon also identifies the three most common culprits of healthcare data breaches: stolen or lost equipment, third-party mistakes, and employee errors, indicating that many data breaches stem from unintentional mistakes. Storing health information on mobile devices is also a common practice among health care organizations. However, 49% of the respondents reportedly do not take any steps to secure patients' information on those devices.

medicaid breachA great example of an accidental data breach recently took place in South Carolina where a Medicaid employee transferred several spreadsheets of sensitive patient data to a personal email account. This kind of data breach could have exposed hundreds of thousands of patients to possible theft of Social Security numbers, Medicaid ID numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and birthdates.

Another alarming example took place at an Emory Healthcare storage facility where 10 back-up disks for an old computer were found missing. These disks contained protected health information (PHI) of more than 300,000 patients including patients' names, doctors' names, diagnoses, medical procedures and other privileged information protected under HIPAA.

As healthcare organizations face greater challenges in protecting massive amounts of patient data, the US federal government continues to strengthen security laws, regulations, and best practices. Due to the HITECH act of 2009, HIPAA compliances now requires more stringent steps to ensure full security of patient information.

As the CTO, IT Manger or System Administrator of your healthcare company, you have a critical task to accomplish. You cannot afford to waste time and money on legal battles that you can avoid in the first place. If you do experience a data breach, the emotional toll on your patients could result in lost clients and a tarnished company image.

Here is the good news: NIST-certified encryption and FIPS 140-2 certified encryption key management is at your fingertips!  Townsend Security’s encryption solutions offer affordable possibilities that will fully protect your patients' records and allow you to avoid a breach notification in accordance with HIPAA/HITECH. You need a security technology with a strong encryption solution that is NIST certified and suitable to your server environment. If data is securely encrypted, data breaches don’t need to be reported and you and your patients are assured peace of mind.

For more information, download our podcast "Protect PHI and Manage Risk - HIPAA Compliance" and learn more about achieving Safe-Harbor status in the event of a breach and what is considered a data breach.  Additionally, learn what to be aware of when selecting an encryption or key management solution.

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Topics: HIPAA, Healthcare, Data Breach

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