Why Small Medical Practices Are Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

You may think your small medical practice is of no interest to cybercriminals. While large data breaches like those suffered by Shields Healthcare Group in Massachusetts, Baptist Health System in Texas, and Kaiser Permanente in Arizona get more media attention, small practices like yours are also targets. While data breaches and ransomware attacks are more common in large medical organizations, recent research indicates that 23% of small medical practices have experienced data breaches and 22% have been targets of ransomware attacks. 


Why are small practices vulnerable? 


Their guard is down. 

One of the main factors that make small practices vulnerable to cybercriminals is the common belief that they’re not vulnerable. When you don’t think you’re a target, you don’t have much incentive to protect yourself. So, while the big fish like Kaiser Permanente may yield a much richer haul of valuable data, it can be simpler to go after lots of small targets that have weaker defenses. 


Employees aren’t properly trained to protect data. 

Human error is an extremely common cause of data security breaches. The problem isn’t limited to small practices; based on the study mentioned above, it appears that human error plays a role in close to half of data breaches across the healthcare industry. To mitigate this issue, it’s important to have data security training and protocols in place that all employees understand and can easily follow. For example, ensure everyone has a unique password and updates it regularly. This is a simple way to prevent more people than you intend from having access to your files. 


They lack cybersecurity expertise. 

Unlike large providers, small medical practices don’t have the luxury of internal IT departments full of tech-focused professionals. Even if there is an IT person on staff, a single employee isn’t in the best position to handle all a business’ IT needs as well stay abreast of the latest developments in the industry—a necessity to keep up with cybercriminals’ evolving tactics. 


They neglect to properly dispose of hard drives. 

Patient information can be worth a lot of money to hackers, and they’re not averse to scrounging through trash to retrieve it. That’s why it’s critical to make sure that when it’s time to upgrade IT hardware, the old machinery is properly disposed of in a secure way so no one can access its data in the future. 


They may not be performing periodic risk assessments. 

When you’re running a small practice, it’s easy to lose track of the little things that aren’t at the center of what you do. One of these is the HIPPAA requirement to perform periodic risk assessments to ensure your practice is in compliance with all the law’s safeguards. These assessments are necessary not only to protect your patients’ personal data but also to keep your practice from running afoul of privacy laws. The US government has provided a free risk assessment tool that can guide you through the process. 


How can I better protect my medical practice from cyber threats? 


Assume that you’re a target. 

The first critical step for small practices is to realize that they are cybercrime targets. Your data on patients and employees is very valuable to criminals, who may see your business as a relatively soft target. 


Assess your needs and current protections. 

A dedicated IT firm is best suited to perform an assessment of your data environment and provide insight into how to best protect your patients’ data. 


Develop an incident response plan. 

Beyond assuming you’re a target, it’s also important to assume that sooner or later, you’ll get hit. That’s where an incident response plan comes in. It helps all employees know exactly what to do in the event of an attack or breach so they can act quickly to minimize any damage. 


Consider working with a dedicated IT partner. 

As a small medical practice, your focus is appropriately on patient care. You’re not likely to have the resources to expertly manage all aspects of data communication and storage. Partnering with an IT firm with proven experience in the healthcare field is the best way to keep your data secure, develop an effective incident response plan, and stay up to date with the most important security innovations. 


Pendello Solutions specializes in managed IT solutions for small to medium-sized businesses, and we have extensive experience in the healthcare industry. We can recommend, design, and implement a solution that fits your business and keeps your valuable data secure. To learn more about how you can fortify your practice against data breaches and cyberattacks, browse our blog.