by Sara Nguyen
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What is risk management in relation to healthcare?

by Sara Nguyen

Letter blocks that spell "Risk".

Risk management is an essential part of any business, but it’s especially true in the healthcare industry since HIPAA compliance requires it. In recent years, the threat of cyberattacks has put an emphasis on managing risks to an organization’s network and patient data.  

What is risk management?

Risk management is the process of identifying, evaluating, and mitigating risks to a company’s operations and capital. In healthcare, covered entities and business associates have a HIPAA obligation to keep protected health information (PHI) secure as well as protecting the workforce and organization. 

Why is risk management important in healthcare?

Healthcare risk management needs to be accurate and efficient since lives are at stake if a risk is poorly managed. In recent years, ransomware attacks may have contributed to a patient death in Germany and an infant’s death in the U.S. 

Cyberattack risks are also responsible for affecting healthcare operations and the quality of patients’ lives. Lisa J. Pino, Director of HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), recently wrote,More than one health care provider was forced to cancel surgeries, radiology exams, and other services, because their systems, software, and/or networks had been disabled.”

Read more: Why health systems must take ransomware protection seriously

Pino also stressed the need for risk analysis and mitigation for healthcare organizations. 

I cannot underscore enough the importance of enterprise-wide risk analysis. Risk management strategies need to be comprehensive in scope,” wrote Pino. “You should fully understand where all electronic protected health information (ePHI) exists across your organization – from software, to connected devices, legacy systems, and elsewhere across your network.”

What are the principles of risk management in healthcare?

There are essentially 4 main principles of risk management in healthcare. These principles are important to implementing the appropriate safeguards to protect your organization from potential harm.

Identify risks

Covered entities and business associates need to start with identifying reasonably potential threats. This is a challenging task, especially since cybersecurity threats are constantly changing. In the past few years, IT teams have had to deal with new issues like the rise in remote work, pandemic-related cyberattacks, and zero-day vulnerabilities like Log4j

By identifying the latest threats to your organization, healthcare risk management can quickly move into evaluating the impact of these threats.

Assess risks

Under the HIPAA Security Rule, covered entities are required to conduct regular risk analyses. A risk assessment is considered the foundational step to HIPAA compliance. Since not all organizations will need the same cybersecurity solution, a risk assessment can help organizations tailor administrative, physical, and technical safeguards that are appropriate for them. 

Read more: New version of HHS Security Risk Assessment Tool released

At this stage, organizations should create strategies to avoid the risks or how to manage them. You may document the process, response, and outcomes of your evaluation. This may come in the form of a business continuity plan.

Implement safeguards

Once risks have been identified and assessed, healthcare organizations can implement the appropriate safeguards needed to protect their organization. Depending on the results of the risk assessment, you may want to consider safeguards like:

  • Creating data backups that may be offline or encrypted
  • Implementing encryption
  • Setting up multi-factor authentication
  • Conducting regular tests on backups
  • Scanning devices for vulnerabilities
  • Patching software and updating to the latest version
  • Training employees on cybersecurity awareness

Monitor and evaluate

Risk management is not a project that gets completed and never thought of again. A healthcare organization needs to routinely monitor and evaluate risks. A risk strategy may need to change if new threats emerge or are failing to provide adequate protection. 

Evaluate email security risks

Communicating with patients is crucial for increasing engagement. But emails are also a top threat vector that could lead to your network getting infiltrated and compromised. 

Some providers choose patient portals for secure communication. But patient portals tend to be too complicated and don’t get used by patients. That’s why implementing HIPAA compliant email can help improve your relationship with your patients while still protecting sensitive data.

Paubox Email Suite Plus automatically encrypts all outgoing emails which keeps patient data safe from unauthorized individuals. Your employees can directly communicate with patients right in their inboxes. 

Our HITRUST CSF certified software also includes robust inbound security tools that detect malicious emails and quarantine them. This means that your employees won’t receive phishing emails, spam, viruses, or malware in their inboxes. The risk of human error can be minimized.

Try Paubox Email Suite Plus for FREE today.