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Communicating with leadership

Threats to PHI are coming fast and furious. Although many organizations are ready to take HIPAA compliance seriously, it requires sustained attention and resources for organizations to protect PHI. That can't happen if privacy and security officers aren't being heard by the board and senior leaders.

In July, OCR announced it reached a HIPAA breach settlement with Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), an academic health center. In its statement on the settlement, the agency drew attention to the vital role hospital executives and senior leaders play in HIPAA compliance. OHSU did complete risk analyses and identify vulnerabilities, including those that caused the two massive breaches named in the settlement, but no action was taken to mitigate these vulnerabilities. Without support from the top, OHSU's security risks remained unaddressed until it was too late. Failure to address these risks came with a $2.7 million price tag, a strict three-year corrective action plan, and the kind of bad press that's difficult to put a positive spin on.

Privacy and security officers need executive support, but obtaining it may be a challenge. Alliances with key staff and an understanding of the concerns senior leaders face can be a win for privacy and security in the boardroom.

Growing threats to PHI, particularly ransomware, have drawn attention to privacy and security this year. Senior leaders and members of the board may be feeling the pressure to change the way their organizations operate and step up security measures.

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