HIPAA Compliance with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

In the age of digital transformation, people are more conscious of their personal data than ever before.
When it comes to personal data, none is more important than a person’s health records. A long-lasting effect of the pandemic is that more healthcare appointments are carried out virtually, leading to an explosion of digital patient records.
Healthcare organizations are legally obliged to protect these records, with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laying out crucial rules for keeping healthcare information.
Changes to the law made at the start of 2021 mean that healthcare institutions are incentivized to follow a set of guidelines.
The HIPAA Safe Harbor Bill gives businesses a set of generally accepted cybersecurity standards that ensure they are following best practices. The benefit of following these rules is that healthcare companies can avoid extra scrutiny by regulators and potentially face smaller fines if a data breach occurs.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has created a cybersecurity framework that guides organizations through these standards.

What Is HIPAA?

HIPAA was initially enacted in 1996 with the purpose of protecting patient records through the standard workflow of data sharing.
Patient records are shared more than the average person might think, often for the benefit of the patient’s care but also for studies and research.
A crucial component of HIPAA is its data redaction requirements.
Healthcare businesses need to redact documents they share both internally and externally to ensure individuals cannot be identified and their privacy is maintained. This presents a challenge for institutions for many reasons. These documents are often stored in a multitude of places – across various departments and clinics – making it tricky to stay on top of what needs doing.
The Safe Harbor element of the law is designed to give guidance to businesses that help them stay within HIPAA, therefore showing a demonstrable willingness to be compliant.

What Is The NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The National Institute for Standards and Technology has developed a framework to help people stay within HIPAA’s Safe Harbor.
The framework is made up of three main sections: Core, Implementation Tiers, and Profiles.
Each section is designed to guide healthcare organizations on their way to HIPAA compliance.
The Framework’s core is a set of actions that help manage cybersecurity and everyday risk associated with data protection. These are:
  • Identify: look for opportunities to improve cybersecurity
  • Protect: proactively secure data and train employees appropriately
  • Detect: be on the lookout for anomalies
  • Respond: act on detected anomalies to keep data protected
  • Recover: move beyond a cybersecurity incident
Each of the five sections is broken down into 23 subcategories that are clearly defined on the NIST website.
Implementation tiers help healthcare organizations ensure they are actually following the guidelines laid out in the framework. The tiers range from one to four, with four being the most stringent compliance across the broad risk management structure.
NIST stresses that the tiers do not necessarily reflect cybersecurity maturity; it’s more a case of each individual organization deciding on what tier best reflects their needs.
Profiles refer to a healthcare business’ individual positioning of objectives and risk desire when laid out against the desires of the Framework Core. NIST says the businesses must assess their “current” profile and compare it to their “Target” profile, which is their ultimate goal.

What are the benefits?

The benefits are clear for healthcare organizations meeting HIPAA Safe Harbor with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.
Following the framework’s guidance demonstrates a clear desire to protect data and strive for the best standards possible. This effort will be reflected should an issue ever arise. And the likelihood of an issue arising is only going to increase, with more of our data being digitized and cybercriminals smelling opportunities to make some quick money while threatening businesses.
The HIPAA changes brought in last January incentivize businesses to follow the Safe Harbor guidance.
Healthcare firms will receive favorable treatment if they can prove that they have adhered to the framework’s rules.
Huge fines can be leveled at businesses that fail to comply with HIPAA. However, organizations that suffer a breach but can show they did their best to avoid such issues can expect their fine to be lower than that received by a business that is deemed negligent.
For healthcare organizations with a genuine desire to protect patient data, the NIST Cybersecurity holds two key benefits. Firstly, the guidance will genuinely improve their practices and help to mitigate the risks posed by cyber criminals and genuine human error related to personal data. Secondly, clearly following the rules and documenting progress shows regulators that the institution has done its best to avoid issues, even in the event that something goes wrong.

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