While every business should prioritize data security, those in the medical industry must be extra cautious. After all, they are dealing with people’s lives, and technology is a big part of that. From running tests and performing surgeries to analyzing data gathered from smartwatches, technology is beginning to have an impact on just about every process that takes place in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
However, although this tech helps the patients thrive, it also requires the use of their personal information, and if that data is put in jeopardy, then the clients and the medical practice could be in hot water. To create a better understanding of the issues, let’s talk about why protection is necessary, the threats to avoid, and how to properly respond if a data breach does occur.
Why Security is So Important
The biggest issue is that data security simply isn’t as big of a concern for medical professionals as it needs to be. In fact, studies show that one in four healthcare employees has never been trained on cybersecurity, which is especially troubling considering that the healthcare industry is actually one of the most targeted sectors for hackers and criminals. Part of the disconnect is that many doctors feel that they just don’t have the time during their day to think about security. However, that way of thinking is dangerous because failure to have a cybersecurity strategy in place could raise multiple issues for your patients and your medical practice.
For starters, there is the cost of recovering from a data breach. The energy and resources necessary to restore customer data and rebuild your systems can be extremely costly, sometimes costing upwards of $4 million. On top of that, there is potentially irreversible damage to your reputation. People count on their doctors to keep them safe, and if they discover that your office was not careful with their personal data, they may never trust you again, and they might decide to look to a different provider for their needs.
While every business will have to face those repercussions, in the healthcare industry, protecting patients is not only ethical, but failure to do so could also be a legal liability. All medical personnel operating in the United States must follow the guidelines set up by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Included in the act is the HIPAA Security Rule, which states that your office must take the proper precautions to protect the data of your patients with proactive strategies that include conducting risk assessments and creating security controls. A medical office that violates this rule could be subject to fines and even jail time if the incident happened with malicious intent. For all of these reasons, doctors and administrators need to start thinking about cybersecurity.
It is necessary to create a comprehensive data security strategy that can tackle the threats that exist in our evolving world. One of the most dangerous threats is ransomware, where a hacker can gain access to the computer network inside of a medical establishment and cease its operation until a ransom is paid. The issue of ransomware is particularly dangerous in the medical industry because if a hacker can interrupt a surgery or consultation, then the patient's health could be put at risk.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, one in three medical organizations reported being hit by ransomware in 2020, and the situation can only get worse if protections aren’t put in place. Many times, the virus or malware that gives hackers control is introduced via a phishing email that the criminal sends to the hospital, fully knowing that the staff hasn’t been trained on cybersecurity. When the victim opens the email and clicks the link or attachment within, the malware is automatically introduced into the system. To avoid this possibility, all employees need to be trained on the threat of phishing scams, and they should be instructed to never click anything within an email unless they were expecting it.
As technology continues to evolve, so do the tactics used by hackers to infiltrate the medical industry. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become popular as people opt to contact their doctors from home to avoid unnecessary social interaction, but this tech can be hacked as well, either on the customer’s end or through the medical office. If data is stolen, then it can be detrimental to the patient as social security and credit card numbers can be used to make fraudulent purchases, and even birth dates and addresses can be sold on the black market and used for future scams.
How to Secure and Respond
It is essential to proactively block cybersecurity threats because cleaning up the mess after a successful data breach can be close to impossible. To prevent data loss, hospitals need to back up all patient data and have immediate access to those servers in case a ransomware attack becomes a reality. Also, all medical establishments need to utilize antivirus software and have strong firewalls in place so hackers cannot easily gain access to the network.
To stay on top of current threats and fortify the systems for the future, it is wise to bring on an IT team or a cybersecurity expert who can work full-time to prevent threats and immediately patch any vulnerabilities, so a small breach doesn’t become a major leak. Hospitals with larger budgets may be wise to implement an artificial intelligence strategy. An AI system will pay attention and analyze existing and emerging cybersecurity threats within all industries and check your network to ensure that you are protected against them. Such a program can identify issues faster than any human ever could.
If a medical entity does experience a data breach, then immediate action must be taken. All systems must be scanned to determine which files were stolen or compromised. Then experts should be contacted who will attempt to recover that data and fix any system issues that allowed the breach to occur. Finally, administrators must reach out to the public and alert those who were infected so they can take immediate action to protect their interests.
As you can see, data security in the medical industry is essential. All healthcare practices need to heed the information and tips described above for the safety and security of their systems and their patients.