3 Things You Can Do This Week to Enhance Your Rural Hospital's Cybersecurity

With cyber attacks on the rise, how can rural hospitals be proactive to protect patient information?


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Rural Hospitals Need to Protect Their Data

Rural hospitals face the same cyber security threat as their urban counterparts. Fortunately, there are best practices that can help mitigate the most common threats without needing extensive IT support. Here are 3 things you can do this week to enhance your rural hospital’s cybersecurity.


External Cybersecurity Risk Assessments

Kickstart your cybersecurity overhaul with a thorough risk assessment. External contractors can spot security blindspots that team members regularly overlook and can bring insights from surveying multiple facilities. Companies like Silent Sector offer cyber risk assessments for various organization types, including healthcare. Risk assessments evaluate an organization based on its vulnerability in multiple areas. For example, Silent Sector’s assessment defines the organization’s risk compared to cybersecurity frameworks like NIST, SOC 2, and HIPAA.

External risk assessments are an expensive service that resource-constrained hospitals may need help to afford, especially amidst staffing and reimbursement challenges. Fortunately, regional or state hospital associations can partner to negotiate preferred pricing, according to the NRHA Cybersecurity Toolkit for Rural Hospitals and Clinics. Additionally, multiple free resources are available online to detect and mitigate threats. HealthIT.gov provides a toolkit and a downloadable tool Security Risk Assessment, free of charge. The toolkit states that many common security flaws can be solved using collaboration.

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Common risks, such as notifying IT of employee terminations, have common solutions. Reaching out to other organizations for example policies and processes on risk mitigation can help your facility learn from other’s experiences. Networks, trade organizations, web resources, and peer hospitals and clinics will likely have sample policies or procedures that can help.

Create an Update Roadmap for Your Hospital’s Systems

83 percent of healthcare systems run outdated operating systems, according to PCmag in 2020. Newer versions of operating systems, when kept up to date, have more extensive virus and threat detection. This means that most computers running vital healthcare software are vulnerable to attack.


While it may take more than a week to update every system within your rural hospital, the administration should immediately take inventory of the hospital’s systems. Work with the IT staff to check which computers are the most out-of-date and if the hospital’s software is compatible with newer operating systems. An update roadmap is the next best option if no systems can be updated immediately due to software incompatibility.


HIPAA & Cybersecurity Best Practices Training

Even the most secure systems are vulnerable to attack if the staff using them do not follow guidelines. Turn the entire staff into your cybersecurity team using cybersecurity training. While educating each employee would be too significant an undertaking, now there is an excellent selection of virtual cybersecurity courses that management can send out and have completed in less than an hour.


Platforms like KnowBe4 offer security awareness training for phishing, social engineering, ransomware, and more from browser-based training modules. There are many options for training, but overall, you should pick an up-to-date browser-based platform for security. Ensure it covers common attacks, email, strong passwords, social media, and secure internet connections to cover any blind spots.


Principal of Least Privilege Advantage

While it may be tempting to move digital resources into cloud services for enhanced security, rural IT professionals must weigh multiple factors before uploading their information into cloud services. Despite their limited IT resources, rural hospitals have a cybersecurity benefit that larger hospitals do not. With an IT team of two or fewer, the hospital’s systems benefit from a ‘least access’ privilege’ since less access means fewer opportunities for crucial data to fall into the wrong hands. Administrators must weigh the benefits and the drawbacks to decide the right level of on-site access at their facility.


While this list is not exhaustive, rural healthcare organizations can get a head-start overhauling their digital security with these steps. Hospitals can use these industry best practices to buy more time for a more extensive security upgrade. For more information about healthcare cybersecurity, read Medplace’s guide for the top cybersecurity frameworks here.

tim walsh

Tim Walsh

Chief Technology Officer

Tim leads the Medplace technology team and oversees the development of the platform. Over his decade plus of experience, he has served as a jack-of-all-trades developer and held leadership roles at various education and technology ventures.


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