Securing The Health of Your Data: Attaining Data Sovereignty in the High-Stakes Healthcare Industry

The topic of data sovereignty in the healthcare industry is highly engaging, given the criticality of safeguarding patient data, which is essential to maintain privacy and security. Healthcare organizations handle vast amounts of sensitive information, such as personal and medical data, that require protection against unauthorized access, theft, and breaches. The notion of data sovereignty comprises two fundamental aspects: Data compliance, which ensures that data is governed by the laws and regulations of the country or region where it is processed or stored, and Data Security, which involves implementing proactive measures to safeguard patient data against unauthorized access or disclosure. This article promises an exciting exploration of the significance of data sovereignty in the healthcare industry, essential compliance and security measures, ethical considerations, and best practices for implementing data sovereignty to protect patient data.

Compliance in the Healthcare Industry

Compliance is a critical component of data sovereignty in the healthcare industry. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data in the United States. It requires healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses to implement appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy and security of patient data. The regulations also require healthcare organizations to notify patients during a data breach and report the incident to the relevant authorities. Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in significant fines and legal action.

Similarly, in the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulates personal data collection, storage, and use, including patient data. The GDPR requires organizations to obtain explicit patient consent before collecting and processing their data and to implement appropriate security measures to protect patient data. The regulations also require organizations to report data breaches to the relevant authorities within 72 hours of discovery. Non-compliance with GDPR can result in significant fines and legal action, including class-action lawsuits.

In addition to HIPAA and GDPR, there are other regulations and guidelines that healthcare organizations must follow to ensure compliance and protect patient data. These include regulations set by government agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as industry standards set by organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Top 5 Biggest HIPPA Violations of All Time

  • Anthem, Inc. – $115 Million Class-Action Lawsuit for Failure to Implement Security Controls
    The 2015 Anthem data breach, caused by cyber attacks, compromised the ePHI of around 79 million people, resulting in one of the largest healthcare data breaches in history. Anthem paid a $115 million settlement for a consolidated class-action lawsuit for the data breach victims in 2018. They also paid a $16 million penalty to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for HIPAA violations. Additionally, the company was found to have failed to conduct a comprehensive risk analysis, lacked proper system monitoring procedures, did not identify and respond to cyber security incidents, and failed to implement minimum requirements for access controls to protect against cyber attackers, starting from February 2014.
  • Memorial Healthcare System (MHS) – $5.5 Million Settlement for Internal PHI Breach
    In 2017, South Florida Memorial Healthcare System (MHS) paid $5.5 million to OCR and agreed to a corrective action plan after two employees stole personal information of over 115,000 patients to sell. A subsequent investigation found that a dozen staff members had misused the credentials of former staff to access PHI regularly between 2011 and 2021. The issue was MHS’s inadequate internal security controls, including failing to limit access to authorized parties and review policies on credential misuse. They also failed to monitor system activity, which would have detected unauthorized access to patient information. Despite policies on PHI access, MHS settled with OCR for one of the largest penalties in history.
  • NY-Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University Medical Center – $4.8 Million Fine for Data Leak
    The New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center were fined $4.8 million for exposing the PHI of approximately 6,800 patients in 2010. A physician at Columbia attempted to deactivate a personal server containing patient information without using safeguards, leaving the data exposed and searchable on the internet. NY-Presbyterian paid $3.3 million, and Columbia University paid $1.5 million for the violation, resulting in one of the largest healthcare fines ever. Both institutions agreed to a corrective action plan, including a standardized risk assessment process, revised data policies, security education, HIPAA training for staff, and progress reports to OCR.
  • Advocate Health Care (AHC) – $5.55 Million Fine
    Advocate Health Care (AHC) Network was fined $5.55 million for HIPAA violations, which is one of the largest healthcare fines ever. Within three months in 2013, AHC experienced two data breaches and failed to obtain a business associate agreement (BAA), which exposed nearly 4 million patient records. Four desktop computers were stolen, a laptop with patient information was stolen from an unlocked vehicle, and AHC did not have a BAA with Blackhawk Consulting Group. AHC failed to comply with HIPAA standards by lacking physical security for their offices, failing to encrypt computers, and neglecting to obtain a BAA. The settlement included a two-year corrective action plan to address all HIPAA failures.
  • Cignet Health – $4.3 Million Fine for Denying Patients Access to Their Medical Records
    In 2008-2009, Cignet Health denied 41 patients their medical records without reason, violating HIPAA laws. Patients complained to the OCR, but Cignet refused to cooperate with investigations and ignored complaints. The HHS imposed a $4.3 million fine, including a $3 million penalty for neglecting to follow HIPAA laws. This was the first civil money penalty imposed by the HHS for a HIPAA violation.

8-step Action Plan for Robust Data Compliance

Implementing compliance measures in healthcare organizations is critical, as it enables them to establish optimal data protection and risk management practices. By following regulations and guidelines, healthcare organizations can pinpoint potential vulnerabilities and put appropriate safeguards in place to avoid data breaches. These measures encompass encryption, access controls, and regular employee training and education to guarantee that patient data is treated confidentially and securely.

Moreover, compliance not only safeguards patient privacy but also preserves trust in healthcare organizations. Patients trust healthcare organizations to protect their data with confidentiality and security, and any violation of this trust can have severe consequences, such as damaging the organization’s reputation, losing patients, and facing legal repercussions. Adhering to regulations and guidelines ensures that patient data is collected, stored, and used with respect for patient privacy, thereby maintaining trust in healthcare organizations.

Here’s a 8-step action plan to get started:

  1. Identify data types including patient health information, financial data, and employee records. This will help determine the data compliance requirements that apply to the organization.
  2. Develop data compliance policies and procedures that cover all aspects of data compliance. This should include data security, access controls, data retention, data sharing, and data breach notification procedures.
  3. Educate employees on the importance of data compliance and the policies and procedures that have been developed. This should be an ongoing process, and employees should be regularly updated on any changes in the policies or procedures.
  4. Conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential data security risks and vulnerabilities. The assessment should cover all aspects of data handling, including data storage, transmission, and disposal.
  5. Implement data security measures such as firewalls, encryption, and access controls, to protect against unauthorized access and data breaches.
  6. Monitor compliance in conjunction with the set policies and procedures. This can be done through regular audits, reviews, and assessments.
  7. Respond to data breaches quickly by having a robust BCP in place. This should include notifying affected individuals, investigating the breach, and taking corrective action to prevent future breaches.
  8. Review and update data compliance policies and procedures to ensure they remain effective and up-to-date.

Data Security in the Healthcare Industry

Security is a critical component of data sovereignty in the healthcare industry. It has become an increasingly critical issue due to the growing volume of sensitive patient data being collected, stored, and transmitted. With the proliferation of electronic health records and other digital healthcare technologies, healthcare organizations must take proactive measures to ensure that patient data is protected from cybercriminals and other unauthorized parties.

The consequences of a data breach in the healthcare industry can be severe, including financial losses, reputational damage, and legal penalties. In addition, a data breach can compromise patient safety and privacy, leading to a loss of trust in healthcare organizations and the healthcare system as a whole.

Top 5 Biggest Cyber Breaches of All Time

The healthcare industry has experienced several high-profile security breaches in recent years. It takes the biggest financial hit from data breaches compared to any other industry, with an average cost of $9.23 million per incident. 2,550 data breaches have compromised over 189 million healthcare records in the last decade. Some notable examples include:

  1. Anthem breach (2015): Hackers stole 80 million patient records, including names, dates of birth, social security numbers, and medical IDs. The breach was attributed to a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group.
  2. American Medical Collection Agency (AMCA) breach (2019): Hackers stole over 20 million patient records, including personal and financial information, from AMCA, a third-party billing and collection service provider for healthcare organizations.
  3. Premera Blue Cross breach (2015): Hackers gained access to 11 million patient records, including names, birthdates, social security numbers, and medical information, in a breach that lasted for nearly a year.
  4. Community Health Systems breach (2014): Hackers stole 4.5 million patient records, including names, birthdates, social security numbers, and addresses, from one of the largest hospital groups in the United States.

These breaches highlight the vulnerability of patient data in the healthcare industry and the need for robust security measures to protect against cyberattacks and data breaches. Healthcare organizations must remain vigilant and proactive in addressing potential vulnerabilities and implementing effective security measures to safeguard patient data.

7-steps to Fortify Data Security

Healthcare organizations must implement a comprehensive security program to protect patient data. This includes measures such as:

  • Access Controls: Implementing access controls that limit access to patient data to authorized personnel only, using measures such as unique usernames, passwords, and two-factor authentication.
  • Encryption: Encrypting patient data protects it from unauthorized access in transit and at rest.
  • Regular Security Updates: Regularly update software and hardware to patch vulnerabilities and prevent security incidents.
  • Employee Training: Regularly training employees on security best practices to prevent security incidents, such as phishing attacks, and to promote data security awareness.
  • Incident Response Plan: Developing and implementing an incident response plan that outlines how to respond to security incidents and minimize the impact of a breach.
  • Third-Party Vendors: Ensuring third-party vendors who handle patient data, such as cloud service providers, comply with security standards and regulations.
  • Regular Audits: Conduct audits to identify vulnerabilities and ensure effective security measures.

In addition to these measures, healthcare organizations must also be vigilant in monitoring potential security incidents and responding promptly to any breaches. This includes conducting regular risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and implementing appropriate security measures to address those vulnerabilities.

Ethical Considerations in Ensuring Data Sovereignty 

Data sovereignty in the healthcare industry has many ethical considerations that must be considered to ensure patient privacy and trust in the healthcare system. Some of these ethical considerations include the following:

  • Informed consent: Patients have a right to know how their data will be used and shared. Healthcare organizations must obtain informed consent from patients before collecting and using their data.
  • Transparency: Healthcare organizations must be transparent about collecting, using, and sharing patient data. Patients have the right to know who can access their data and for what purposes. According to Techjury, 34% of healthcare data breaches come from unauthorized access or disclosure.
  • Data accuracy: Healthcare organizations are responsible for ensuring that the data they collect and use is accurate and up-to-date. Inaccurate data can lead to misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and other negative consequences for patients.
  • Data security: Implement robust security measures to protect patient data from unauthorized access, disclosure, and theft is a mandate for healthcare providers today. This includes both technical and administrative security measures.
  • Data sharing: Organizations must balance data sharing for patient care and public health purposes with protecting patient privacy. Data sharing must be done in a secure and transparent manner.
  • De-identification: It is critical to de-identify patient data before sharing it for research. De-identification helps protect patient privacy while allowing for data sharing and analysis.
  • Accountability: The accountablity for the data collected and used solely lies with the organization doing so. This includes complying with relevant regulations and laws, being transparent about their data practices, and responding appropriately to data breaches and other security incidents.

In conclusion, data sovereignty, compliance, and security are critical components of the healthcare industry. Healthcare organizations must implement robust measures to protect patient data, ensure compliance with regulations, and maintain the trust of patients. By doing so, they can help to ensure that patient data is secure, private, and used ethically. The future outlook for data sovereignty in healthcare will depend on continued efforts to improve compliance and security measures and the ethical considerations surrounding patient data. Healthcare organizations must proactively develop and implement robust data governance policies and security measures as more data is generated and shared. Emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence can improve data sovereignty and patient outcomes, but they also present new ethical considerations that must be addressed.

Ultimately, the future outlook for data sovereignty in healthcare will depend on the ability of healthcare organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders to work together to prioritize patient privacy, data security, and transparency. By taking a proactive and collaborative approach, we can ensure that patient data is protected and used to drive better healthcare outcomes for all.

The Data Dynamics Advantage

The healthcare industry faces several challenges related to data sprawl and cyber security. This industry can achieve data sovereignty by implementing a unified data management platform, which improves data security and reduces the risk of being attacked by malicious actors. The Data Dynamics unified data management platform is an effective solution that can assist healthcare organizations in maximizing the value of their unstructured and high-volume data while ensuring that robust security measures are in place to prevent data breaches. The platform achieves this by centralizing data, identifying personally identifiable information (PII/PHI), and improving security controls using metadata analytics, data remediation, data quarantining, access control management, and immutable audit logging. This helps organizations to manage their enterprise data efficiently while maintaining the integrity of their data. 

Overall, the Data Dynamics unified data management platform is an excellent solution for healthcare organizations that want to improve their data management practices, prevent data breaches, ensure their sensitive data is well-protected, and help them achieve data sovereignty using one single software.

To learn more about how Data Dynamics can help your enterprise achieve ultimate data sovereignty, please visit – or contact us at I (713)-491-4298.

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