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South Dakota's Rural Clinics are at Risk of Cyberattacks

South Dakota's Rural Clinics are at Risk of Cyberattacks

Cybercriminals focus on patient data because it contains all the information needed for identity theft and has a high value on the Dark Web. This is why large hospitals invest in considerable cybersecurity resources. Hackers know this and often focus on rural hospitals because, due to lack of resources for IT security, rural clinics may be an easier target. They aren’t wrong. Please read on to learn how rural clinics can better protect their patient data.

The Healthcare Industry is a Target for Cybercriminals

The HIPAA Journal predicts data breaches to cost the healthcare industry $4 billion in 2020 and next year may be worse. While many healthcare providers and organizations still believe that a data breach is just an inconvenience or rarely occurs, the reality is that if your organization suffers a data breach, there could be great financial penalties. Here are some examples:

These few examples are the tip of the iceberg. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is routinely searching for HIPAA violations. If you’re found to be non-compliant, the penalties will be substantial. This is particularly of concern if you have a medical facility in South Dakota. South Dakota has one of the most robust data protection and notification laws in the county. With penalties going up to $10,000 a day, per instance, you can see how some medical organizations end up paying millions of dollars in penalties when they don’t follow best data protection practices.

South Dakota’s Rural Hospitals are at Risk

While South Dakota avoided any patient breaches in 2018, this was in a pre-coronavirus world. In today's post-coronavirus environment, there is an incredible amount of stress being placed on medical institutions. This is particularly true for rural clinics that don't have access to their city and suburban counterparts' resources, leaving rural caregivers at a disadvantage when providing services at the needed levels.

In fact, according to data.HRSA.gov, South Dakota has 57 rural clinics, which are often underserved and are trying to adapt their practices to function in a post-coronavirus environment. Of concern to rural clinics and hospitals is the draining of resources in response to the COVID-19 crisis, resources that were already insufficient regarding patient care.

Unsurprisingly, providing efficient patient care is the primary issue most rural healthcare providers face when their systems are stressed. However, the stress rural clinics face from combating coronavirus can present itself in ways that place patients at a different risk: patient data being compromised.

Why Patient Data is the Most Valuable Type of Data

Patient data is incredibly valuable to a hacker because it contains a wealth of personal and sensitive information. Information ranging from social security numbers to credit card information, to addresses, phone numbers, even a patient's mother's maiden name; all the information required to co-opt your patient's identity. 

You can imagine the havoc an unscrupulous person could do with such information and how much it would be worth on the Dark Web. Moreover, consider how much damage it could do to your patient's life, especially at a time when they can least afford it: while they are potentially at risk of a life-threatening illness.

It may seem that small businesses and organizations, such as rural clinics, would be a low-risk target for cybercriminals with little benefit for the effort. In reality, the truth is small businesses are attacked; you just don't hear about them

In today's connected environment, smaller organizations are often connected to larger organizations, presenting opportunities for attack. Hackers know that if they can compromise the system of a smaller organization, they may gain access to a larger organization's data if the two are connected. Moreover, they can do so with a fraction of the effort and risk of getting caught due to the weaker data security a small organization may have.

How Smaller South Dakota Healthcare Practices Can Protect Themselves from Cyberattacks

The National Rural Health Resources Center provides a cybersecurity toolkit for rural hospitals and clinics, which offers necessary steps healthcare providers serving rural populations should follow to keep their patients’ data secure. These steps are:

  • Awareness: Keep cybersecurity top of mind by sending informational content, such as emails and news articles, to your team. Cybersecurity awareness aims to help your team consider and treat cybersecurity as a normal part of their daily duties.
  • Assessment: Perform a risk assessment annually, and when you make changes to your systems. Assessments are critical as they provide a data security baseline and discover any areas of weakness.
  • Remediation: Once you discover areas of weakness, you must develop a plan to maintain and manage your data security. Many rural clinics are understaffed and under-funded, often finding innovative methods to make the most of what they have. Unfortunately, cybersecurity is one area that shouldn’t be handled in-house.
  • Education: Provide cybersecurity training for your team members. Your team is the cornerstone to your cybersecurity’s success or failure and will always be the first area of attack for a cybercriminal. By training your team, you increase the chances for a cyberattack to fail.

How Managed IT can Help Rural Clinics

While we often mention the pitfalls of using the "break/fix" method to maintain your technology, we understand that if you're unsure of your budget (as many rural clinics are), the break/fix methods can seem to be the best option you have. The problem with relying on the break/fix method is that you're unable to prevent the worse effects of the damage by waiting until something breaks. This means you have to spend additional time and resources to correct it when it would have been more efficient to prevent it from happening in the first place.  

Managed IT offers a variety of services to solve your technological concerns, including data security. As South Dakota's premier MSP, KT Connections understands our local healthcare providers' needs and has the tools to keep patient data safe while increasing your productivity, even during this crisis.

Some Solutions Managed IT can Bring to your Clinic:

EMR/EHR: Investing the time to migrate from paper records to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) or Electronic Health Records (EHR) can bring a wealth of benefits to healthcare centers, particularly rural clinics, which may rely heavily on paper records. Electronic records are inherently more secure than a file cabinet full of paper records, which can be damaged or lost due to disaster or human error.  

HIPAA Compliance: The law of the land, HIPAA compliance is critical to maintaining your patient's privacy. As we have learned earlier, failure to adhere to HIPAA regulations can have severe ramifications for your practice, which is why it's essential to understand HIPAA. One issue of concern about rural clinics is making their technology last as long as possible. While this is a great way to keep costs down, there can be unintended consequences.

For example, If your clinic is still using Windows 7, you are no longer HIPAA compliant. HIPAA regulations require software involved with patient data that must be updatable to address new cyberthreats. Windows 7 is no longer supported by Microsoft, making your clinic non-compliant with HIPAA. If you still have computers running Windows 7, contact KT Connections today to develop a plan to bring your practice back into HIPAA compliance.

Finally, Managed IT brings with it several security services designed to keep your patient data secure. Ranging from cybersecurity protection, network security, and email encryption, our security solutions will keep your patient data free from prying eyes. Most important, managed IT offers these services at a flat rate, allowing your clinic to manage your budget better and not worry about unexpected technology costs.

For more information about how KT Connections can present options for your practice, contact us today at 605-341-3873.

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