The world is more reliant on technology than ever. We spend much of our lives online, and whenever we hand over our personal information, we are at risk of a breach.
Although data security is important everywhere, it’s especially so in the health care field, where sensitive health records of patients are kept by the thousands.
The protection of health records and health care cybersecurity is vital when it comes to telehealth and video visits with doctors, ophthalmologists, and patient care specialists. This is a relatively new field, which came to prominence amid the pandemic, so we are still learning the best methods of protection.
The information and tips discussed here are a good start.
Why patient data protection is so important
Whether you’re implementing a new virtual health care technology or you run a physical office that takes in-person appointments, you have a legal and moral imperative to protect personal data.
Individuals trust your organization with vast amounts of information about themselves. In the health care industry, this usually includes sensitive information about medical conditions or lifestyle choices that, if made public, could cause extreme embarrassment and could even result in discrimination.
It’s why there is such an emphasis on protecting this information. In the US, health care organizations must implement proper security for electronic health records as part of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance.
The legislation includes a rule that states that a medical establishment must take the necessary steps to protect patients’ data and ensure that it isn’t illegally shared with others.
Despite this, medical establishments don’t take cybersecurity as seriously as they should. Research from our sister company found that the health care sector is the most vulnerable to cyber attacks and data breaches, accounting for 20% of all publicly disclosed incidents in 2022.
To compound the matter, cybersecurity risks associated with health care technology are only continuing to grow. With the sector often relying on outdated and poorly protected technology, it’s easy for criminal hackers to inject malware into unsecured databases. Ransomware attacks in particular continue to wreak havoc on hospitals.
Security and virtual visits
Online and virtual appointments are convenient for patients who lack the mobility to get to a doctor’s office or live far away from a physical facility, but as is often the case, convenience comes at a cost.
When a health care organization doesn’t use the proper security protocols, a criminal hacker can exploit a vulnerability to listen in on the conversation. They could then use the information they gather for malicious purposes, like phishing or extortion.
Virtual appointments also come with the risk of an unsecure connection, which could allow the criminal hacker to gain access to either computer and steal the information within.
Although basic security starts with an encrypted network and secure credentials, different medical industries handle telemedicine in different ways. As such, their cybersecurity needs will differ too.
For instance, in the world of ophthalmology, many doctors schedule virtual eye appointments. While they cannot complete a routine eye exam online, they can test patients for visual acuity, determine when a patient needs emergency care, and manage chronic conditions over the computer.
These appointments are valuable, not just to the patient but also to criminal hackers, who can sell on or otherwise misuse the personal information that the patient provides.
Many general practitioners can provide prescriptions through telehealth platforms, depending on the type and the seriousness of the condition. However, the personal and pharmacy information that patients provide to get their medication can also be stolen by criminal hackers.
Find and secure your vulnerabilities
Regardless of the technology or procedures your medical office uses or performs, cybersecurity is essential. Administrators who are not well versed on this topic can bring in an IT expert who can run a system vulnerability check to inform them of which systems are safe and which need to be updated or better secured. Vulnerability checks should be completed at regular intervals catch any updated threats.
There are also many basic tactics that health care organizations can use that can be very beneficial to your systems and your customers.
For example, every system and file that is accessed must be protected with a strong password. You can further secure those portals by enabling a form of MFA (multi-factor authentication), such as an additional code or a biometric scan.
Files and PDFs containing sensitive information should also be password protected. Security for these files is straightforward, and it can be done by using online tools to upload your patient’s PDF.
Finally, every computer should be equipped with anti-malware software, which will run scans automatically several times per week. All software, including anti-malware programs, should be updated whenever a new version becomes available to protect against the latest threats.
Ultimately, cybersecurity in the health care industry cannot be stressed enough. Think about the steps you need to take as technology evolves, so you can create and maintain a secure environment for your patients.