Virtually every business in every sector is grappling with the reality that, along with its many benefits, the digital age has numerous hazards and shortcomings – especially when it comes to data protection. Meanwhile, those in the healthcare industry have been aware of this for a long time.

Healthcare providers collect copious amounts of their patients’ most sensitive information, and as the industry becomes more digital and accessible, that data is increasingly vulnerable to theft or misuse.

Of course, HIPAA and other laws require healthcare and healthcare-adjacent companies to protect patients’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII), Personal Health Information (PHI), and Electronic Health Record (EHR) from fraud, theft, or other misuses.

However, that doesn’t mean that healthcare providers are immune to the dangers of the digital age. In 2018, hundreds of data breaches compromised millions of patient records as phishing attacks, ransomware, malware, and insider threats made it extremely difficult for healthcare companies to comply with data security regulations. Unfortunately, healthcare’s long tenure in the data compliance arena isn’t helping the industry come out ahead, and the problem is progressively worsening. According to HIPAA Journal, the number of reported breaches has risen from less than 50 in 2009 to more than 365 in 2018.

It’s time for healthcare organizations to fight back. While companies need to be aware of the risks associated with third-party vendors or external malicious actors, the majority of data loss events are the result of insider threats. According to Verizon’s 2018 Protected Health Information Data Breach Report, 58% of data loss events involve insiders. The report concludes, “Healthcare is the only industry in which internal actors are the biggest threat to an organization.”

To protect against this, healthcare companies should turn to robust employee monitoring software to protect their patient information and to maintain compliance with applicable regulations.

In this way, HIPAA compliance and employee monitoring go hand-in-hand. Here are three reasons why:

#1 Real-time monitoring prevents accidental and intentional data theft.

HIPAA’s privacy rule creates a national standard for data protection related to medical records and other ancillary healthcare information, and it has sweeping implications for the healthcare industry since it applies to health insurance providers, clearinghouses, direct healthcare providers, and other institutions.

Therefore, the responsibility to protect patient information is stringent, even against accidental data theft and disclosure, and failure is both unacceptable and costly. Healthcare companies need strategic insights to prevent insiders from compromising patient data in violation of HIPAA’s privacy rule.

Employee monitoring with insider threat detection harnesses the capabilities afforded by AI and machine learning to build behavior profiles that determine data use norms while continuously scanning for abnormalities. With advanced features like rule-based risk analysis, IT forensics, and live history playback, healthcare providers can have a comprehensive understanding of their employees’ data use norms and possible risks associated with those behaviors.

With an eye on privacy and granular control, the healthcare industry should implement employee monitoring to ensure that patient information remains secure.

#2 Enforceable content safeguards thwart data misuse.

HIPAA’s security rule dictates that providers “implement technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of electronically protected health information.” The right employee monitoring software can be that technical safeguard by providing the analytics and the real-time content safeguards to protect patient information.

Healthcare is a sprawling industry where dozens of employees across numerous departments work together to provide cohesive patient care. Even so, that doesn’t mean that all employees need access to sensitive patient information, and the right monitoring software ensures that everyone is on a need-to-know basis.

By restricting data access, healthcare companies lessen the likelihood that privacy or security rules will be violated.

At the same time, this software gives companies greater control of their data by automatically warning IT admins when suspicious behavior is detected. Moreover, automatic actions can be configured to alert, block, or lockout a user if a security anomaly is detected.

Perhaps most importantly, comprehensive employee monitoring software includes endpoint data loss prevention, which can prevent a HIPAA violation before it occurs.

For instance, an employee can be prevented from sending confidential information to an external email address, printing patient information, or copying data to external or cloud storage systems.

HIPAA’s security rule places a significant burden on healthcare providers to actively protect patient information, and employee monitoring is a critical tool for complying with that mandate.

#3 IT forensics maintain the burden of proof.

If something does go wrong and patient data is lost, healthcare providers need to account for this data loss event. Since HIPAA’s enforcement rule implies financial penalties, healthcare providers need exhaustive documentation both to understand the data loss event and to hold perpetrators responsible.

Employee monitoring offers the digital forensic tools needed to conduct a full autopsy of the incident. Monitoring all of the company’s communications channels, employee monitoring identifies who accessed the respective data, where they were when it was accessed, and what they did with the information. In addition, metadata alerts, keystroke logs, screen session recording, and history playback can produce the proverbial smoking gun needed to hold bad actors responsible.

These detailed alerts and immutable logs support HIPAA record keeping, corroboration, and documentation requirements.

The consequences for companies that come up short in this regard are expensive. Fines for HIPAA violations can be as high as $25,000 per category, something that can quickly cost companies overwhelming amounts.

In an exhaustive study on the data landscape in the healthcare industry, HIPAA Journal notes, “In addition to an increase in fines and settlements, the level of fines has also increased substantially. Multi-million-dollar fines for HIPAA violations are now the norm.”

Now, more than ever, there is a need to establish appropriate security guidelines and controls for insiders at HIPAA governed institutions. Look for employee monitoring and DLP solutions to provide the necessary technological infrastructure to both reduce and eliminate the insider threats as well as provide the necessary forensic evidence in the event of a data breach to comply with HIPAA requirements.