My Key Takeaways from the Rural Health Leadership Cybersecurity Forum

Did You Miss the Event? Here’s What I Learned.

I have to start this article with one word: “Wow!” 

It was such an honor to be involved in an event like the Rural Health Leadership Cybersecurity Forum. It was an ambitious project and we packed so much valuable information into just 5 hours, but we were inspired by your participation and positive feedback. 

If there’s one thing to know about me, it’s that I love rural healthcare. I have been there and worked in rural healthcare and I know the importance of the work you do. I know being a rural healthcare provider in this day and age can be challenging, but if the Rural Health Leadership Cybersecurity Forum showed me anything, it’s that we have a place where we can share ideas and resources if we need them. 

I was pretty busy as a host of the event, but I did have a few things that struck me as too important not to share.

Here are a few of my key takeaways from the event:

Telehealth security standards will tighten.

Sarah West really helped me understand just what goes into the investigative work on the government side of things when the worst happens in our business. Sarah is an investigator for the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). I know a lot of us would rather not think about getting a call from someone like Sarah, but it’s important to try and see how the other side works.

One important thing that I noticed from her points was that OCR has been giving the medical field a break this past year when it comes to Telehealth. Doctors and nurses have been allowed to use things like Skype and FaceTime without HIPAA penalties. Makes sense, right? The pandemic has made things crazy enough for our field as it is, so going easy on how medical staff talks to patients makes sense. But, that isn’t going to last forever. When this good faith provision is up, healthcare providers should already be switched back to a secure and approved video provider they have a business associate agreement with when it comes to their Telehealth needs. So, as soon as that good faith provision is revoked, be prepared for that change.

Be prepared in case the OCR comes knocking.

Sarah also went over some pretty scary statistics about just how fast cybercrime-related investigations have increased in recent years. Spoiler alert, it’s only gone up since 2016. Thankfully, she closed out with some really helpful practices when it comes to avoiding any breaches that will earn you a visit from Sarah, and went over the Security Risk Assessment tool. The SRA tool isn’t the be-all end-all way to make sure you’re safe from HIPAA breaches, but it is a good way to start the process of checking yourself.

Don’t forget your personal security.

I got a chance to talk with John Sileo, too. The two crimes he had to face also showed just how varied these attacks can be; his first experience involved his Social Security number being stolen by a stranger, and the second was caused by a shady business associate framing him for fraud.

I just kept thinking about how many headaches those cybersecurity nightmares caused him. All that damage to his reputation, the loss of his clients’ respect, the time he used to spend with his little girls, and his very freedom. Thankfully he managed to clear his name, but you can’t get back lost time.

The smaller you are, the more cybercrime costs.

John also blew my mind with some of the facts he had about cybercrime. Did you know that the cost to deal with a breach actually goes up as the size of the healthcare provider goes down? And those repairs can run you around four million dollars on average. That’s not the kind of money rural healthcare providers have lying around, so it’s important to do everything you can to avoid any breach in your networks.

Finding the Federal funding

Sarah and John gave me an idea of what happens if your network is breached, but Chrystal Matthews helped me understand how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to getting funds to prevent all that headache in the first place.

Chrystal’s methods of getting funding from the Rural Health Care Program can increase funding for a rural healthcare provider by 400% to 600%. Honestly that didn’t even sound real to me at first. But Chrystal’s “secret sauce” involves the use of something called the consortium model. The best way I can describe a consortium is that it’s a number of healthcare providers banding together to make it easier to apply for funding.

Consortiums get more cash

Being in a consortium helps with things like making network upgrades easier to obtain and creates value due to volume purchasing. Unfortunately, a lot of healthcare providers either don’t know about consortiums, or get intimidated by them. Maybe they get worried about working with a competitor. But I also learned from Chrystal that you don’t have to be affiliated with another provider to be in a consortium with them. Heck, you can be in different parts of the country. Those are just a few things that stood out to me, but Chrystal had a treasure trove of ways for smaller healthcare providers to save money.

Helping rural healthcare

That’s the whole reason we started this forum was to try and bridge all the gaps between all the rural healthcare providers across the country. We are the backbone of what makes America work. We may not get all of the fancy equipment and all of the big news stories that hospitals in the big cities get, but we are just as important as any of those big-city places to the patients that come into our ERs and our hospital rooms.

This new era of cybercrime is not something that we can just cross our fingers and hope we don’t get attacked. The rural healthcare network is one of the biggest targets in the eyes of these criminals, so we need to be prepared and we need to be ready to help each other out. 

Now, I know I threw a lot at you in this article right here. If you happened to miss the forum when it was going on, I got you covered. You can check out the entire thing right here:

The cybersecurity aspect of the rural healthcare system going forward is a pretty scary thing to think about, I’m not going to lie. But I hope that all this information has helped take the edge off just a little bit.

Thanks again. And don’t hesitate to reach out. 


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