The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology March 27 released for comment through May 28 a federal strategic plan for health information technology over the next five years. The plan outlines federal goals and strategies to support electronic health information access, exchange and use. Federal agencies will use the final plan to prioritize and coordinate their efforts and signal priorities to the private sector. According to ONC, the draft plan aligns with HHS’ previous concept paper and voluntary Cybersecurity Performance Goals.

“AHA appreciates that Health and Human Services is incorporating the voluntary Cybersecurity Performance Goals based on the cyber resiliency best practices and strategies identified by cybersecurity industry experts and the public-private partnership between federal agencies and several representatives of the health care sector, including the AHA,” said John Riggi, AHA’s national advisor for cybersecurity and risk.

“However, HHS continues to push its misguided concept paper, which calls for mandatory cybersecurity requirements for hospitals alone. This will not improve the overall cybersecurity posture of the health care sector. HHS’ repeated references to this concept paper demonstrates the logically flawed emphasis on hospitals as the primary source of cyber risk in health care. To make meaningful progress in the war on cybercrime, the federal government must be willing to take a strategic and holistic approach to this national security threat, not focusing on just one facet of the health care sector — hospitals. Any defensive strategy imposed on the health care sector must also be accompanied by an equally aggressive offensive cyber strategy by the government to counter the true source of cyber risk — foreign bad guys. 

“As the painful experience of the Change Healthcare crisis reminded us, hospitals and our patients are more likely to be the victims or collateral damage of cyberattacks, and not the primary source of cyber risk exposure facing the health care sector. That well-documented source of risk originates from vulnerabilities in third-party technology and service providers, and not hospitals’ primary systems. 

“The AHA cannot support proposals for mandatory cybersecurity requirements being levied on hospitals as if they were at fault for the success of hackers in perpetrating a crime. Imposing fines or cutting Medicare payments would diminish hospital resources needed to combat cybercrime and would be counterproductive to our shared goal of preventing cyberattacks.”

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