The following post is by a special guest blogger: Our very own Patricia Thorp! She recently gave a speech to 50 healthcare professionals at the HITECH Act Summit on November 10. The topic was crisis management when data breaches occur.

Identity theft has become the fastest-growing and most common crime in America. No industry is immune from this danger, because every brand has a reputation at stake that can be irreparably harmed.

In particular, this applies to hospitals, doctors and their vendors that are vulnerable to hackers and data theft alike. Until now, this was a problem for the healthcare community – but now they are about to find out that the long arm of the law has just become longer.

Effective this year, with the enactment of the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, there are now fines and communications regulations that will really put hospitals and doctors groups at risk when there is a data breach to their electronic protected health information. If a breach of more than 500 data records occurs, healthcare groups will now have to distribute a news release to the media – and endure the barrage of negative articles that hospitals such as Shands, Holy Cross Hospital and others have had to face when such information becomes public.

To see my speech, which includes information about the Act’s requirements as well as some case studies, media tips and examples of how to best handle this crisis, see my full video.

The HITECH Act should be an important (and alarming) reminder that brands need to carefully manage their valuable online reputations. As such, I should point out that a lot of the tips provided in the video – and below – for crisis management are good practices for any and all industries when problems arise.

Protecting your online and offline reputation is not easy, but if you take advantage of these tips and put together the right PR program, you can mitigate the dangers and come out ahead.

Respond to the media. They will write the story with or without you. In a study from a couple of years ago, 76% of people surveyed considered a company to be guilty when they stood behind a “no comment” reply.

Control communications flow. Have only one central point of media contact who is prepped and trained to deal with the media succinctly.

Don’t forget your internal audience. Email management and supervisors as appropriate. Oftentimes many internal team members will talk to frustrated customers, so it’s important to keep your team in the loop.