Technology has made a significant contribution to healthcare and medicine. Nowadays, patient portals and online healthcare sharing are common, and they make it easier for medical professionals to monitor their patients.
Sharing patient information enables medical professionals to improve the quality of care, reduce the risk of malpractice and medication error, decrease readmissions, and avoid duplicate testing. The entire team is on the same page because they have access to the same information.
Although easy access and sharing of patient information is beneficial in many ways, it does create a new problem: data security. The healthcare industry is vulnerable to cyberattacks from malicious actors who seek patient information. Hackers can use this information for identity theft or hold it for ransom.
A central duty of any healthcare professional is to protect a patient’s right to privacy, and a secure healthcare platform is vital for that protection. Let’s dive into what makes a healthcare IT platform secure and why your choice of platform can make or break your data security.
Rise of cyberattacks in healthcare
Cyberattacks are on the rise around the globe, and healthcare is among one of the most frequently attacked industries. Besides healthcare, cyberattacks also target small businesses, government agencies, financial institutions, schools, and utility companies.
There are a few reasons why healthcare organizations are such a prime target for cyberattacks. These include:
- Private patient information is worth a lot to hackers
- Medical devices are a simple entry point for hackers
- Medical staff usually need to access patient information remotely, thereby opening up more opportunities for a cyberattack
- Healthcare organizations often keep outdated software that is vulnerable to modern hacking techniques
- Healthcare staff aren’t aware of all online risks
According to Critical Insights, cyberattacks and breaches were at an all-time high in 2021; Forty-five million people were affected by healthcare data breaches. For the sake of comparison, the number of individuals affected in 2020 was 34 million. In 2018, about 14 million people were affected by breaches in the healthcare industry.
Hackers are getting more sophisticated. Not only that, but more patient data moves online every day. New healthcare platforms and tools continue to emerge. Without a hyper-focus on protecting patient data, each new tool is a potential weak point in an organization’s security.
It’s not just patients who are affected by these breaches; there are plenty of repercussions for healthcare institutions as well. Cyberattacks can cause you to lose revenue, trust, and your reputation. In the worst cases, they can even stall patient care.
The consequences are even more dire in the healthcare space. Each cyberattack and breach of privacy costs the healthcare industry $355 on average. For comparison’s sake, each breach in other industries costs around $158.
How do healthcare data breaches happen?
The healthcare industry is vulnerable to cyberattacks for many reasons, which were briefly mentioned above. However, the biggest culprits that cause data breaches in healthcare include the following:
- Unsecured and weak passwords: Many healthcare organizations have weak passwords that are easy to remember but provide no protection against skilled hackers. In some cases, healthcare staff reuses the same password for multiple applications and systems. All these things make passwords easy to guess and hack.
- Malware: Email malware and phishing scams are common methods hackers use to steal data. When staff within a healthcare institution isn’t educated on this subject, they can open the email or click the links which contain viruses or enable hackers to get it. Some phishing scams will even present a landing page that looks identical to the official website of the organization. When employees log in, the hacker steals their credentials.
- Poor network security: Weak and unprotected wireless networks can also contribute to data breaches in the healthcare industry. This is particularly true for simple passwords.
- Lack of program updates and outdated systems: Healthcare organizations and institutions that rely on outdated systems, applications, and platforms are at a higher risk of a data breach. Outdated systems lack adequate security. The use of outdated systems stems from a lack of understanding of the importance of regular program updates. It can also come from a belief that since nothing has happened yet, nothing will happen in the future.
What kind of information needs to be protected?
Patient information that needs to be protected includes:
- Names and addresses
- Important dates such as birth dates, death dates, admission dates, treatment dates, and discharge dates
- Medical record numbers
- Social security numbers and insurance information
- Medical histories
- Test results
- Biometric identifiers such as fingerprints, voiceprints, and retinal prints
- Photographs and similar images
- Other info used to identify a patient
Regulatory bodies and governments update privacy requirements often in order to respond to growing challenges and ensure optimal security for patients. For that reason, healthcare organizations and institutions need to keep up with the latest developments and respond to them adequately.
HIPAA and patient protection abroad
The first thing most people think of when it comes to cybersecurity in healthcare is the HIPAA security rule. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted back in 1996. Its main objective is to establish national standards to protect personal health information maintained or gathered by a specific healthcare organization or institution.
Under this security rule, all covered entities need to utilize adequate technical, administrative, and physical safeguards for protecting electronic protected health information (e-PHI). That means healthcare organizations need to ensure integrity, confidentiality, and availability of e-PHI they maintain or transmit. Additionally, healthcare organizations need to identify potential threats and protect e-PHI against them.
The HIPAA security rule protects information regarding diagnoses, treatments, prescription information, medical test results, and personal information like gender, ethnicity, and emergency contacts, among others.
While HIPAA applies only to the United States, other countries have similar regulations. For example, Canada has the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) which regulates entities within the private sector that maintain personal information for commercial purposes. While HIPAA applies to the entire United States, PIPEDA isn’t applicable in Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia.
On the other hand, protecting information in healthcare is quite complicated in the United Kingdom. Healthcare institutions or organizations need to comply with many acts, standards, and regulations. The general law that protects information of this kind is the Data Protection Act 2018, which regulates the protection of all personal information, including healthcare info.
Australia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar all have data protection acts that guard health info from misuse. Germany is also working on the digitalization of its healthcare system, and it enacted a law to guard patient data.
When you’re looking for a healthcare platform, the conversation starts and ends with patient data. It’s not just important but crucial to find a platform that goes above and beyond current regulations to protect patients’ personal information.
21st Century Cures Act
The 21st Century Cures Act was implemented in 2016 by former President Obama. This law put patients at the center and gave them more control over their health records. At the same time, the Cures Act also created financial penalties for healthcare providers that don’t meet interoperability thresholds.
The law also called for reducing the administrative or regulatory burdens associated with using electronic health records. It established incentive programs that pushed healthcare organizations toward digital record-keeping to achieve that objective. The law also strengthened requirements for IT interoperability and clarified language related to information privacy in healthcare.
A secure platform means securing patient relationships
While the benefits of emerging patient platforms are numerous, every organization must be wary of cyberattacks.
The best platforms will safeguard patient information while keeping it usable and intuitive for clinicians. Patients should be able to take their health into their own hands and feel a sense of control. That’s why secure platforms are vital.
Welkin is a HIPAA-compliant Care Management platform that takes data security to the next level with single sign-on and multi-factor authentication features as well as a third-party SOC 2 Type 2 certification. We make it easy to manage patient data, track activity, and guard against breaches.
To learn more about secure healthcare platforms, visit Welkin’s security and compliance page.