Few industries have as much of a negative reputation as the U.S. healthcare industry. Healthcare is widely regarded as prohibitively expensive, wasteful, and drastically behind the times, technologically speaking. Distrust in the national healthcare system is at an all-time low. The New York Times reports that only about 34% of Americans have confidence in the overall healthcare system. And less than one-third are confident that public health officials will share complete and accurate information with the public, especially in regards to potential outbreaks. 

However, despite inherent technological deficiencies within the healthcare industry, huge strides have been made in recent years. In the wake of tech advancements such as a growing healthcare IT market, which is expected to bring in $390.7 billion by 2024, has healthcare finally caught up to other industries? If so, can the modernization of healthcare technology help bring trust back to the American healthcare system?

A Plethora of Healthcare Data

At the crux of every medical emergency, every visit to a PCP, and every routine checkup is paperwork. Even as more and more of that paperwork becomes digitized, the data deluge within the healthcare industry requires creative solutions.

Each patient today accumulates approximately 80 megabytes of data on an annual basis, including both text and images. In light of these numbers, healthcare organizations are beginning to recognize that all the data collected is overwhelming at best, and unmanageable at worst. Hiring the right professionals who can effectively deal with and organize the exorbitant amount of healthcare data is the first step towards making sense of patient information, and keeping it easily accessible.

The next step involves keeping that patient data secure. Hackers are especially attracted to healthcare data, as it contains so much personal information, such as a patient’s health history and billing information, and even social security numbers and home addresses. Healthcare data isn’t the only thing out there that’s desirable to hackers, either. Similar to healthcare data, data collected from job applicants is highly valuable to hackers and can be sold on the black market. Therefore, proper cyber security is paramount in healthcare settings, from small-town clinics, to major medical centers, to any business that handles any level of personal information.

The Vulnerability of Health Records

To truly catch up in regards to recognizing and preparing for the possibility of hackers, the healthcare industry needs to understand the extent of the risk. A potential security breach can happen at any time, and the healthcare industry’s IT professionals of the future need to be prepared for every possibility and ensure that their cyber security methods are thorough as well as HIPAA compliant.

Patient data security is a fundamental factor in HIPAA compliance. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law in 1996, when the internet was in its adolescence. Only 20 million American adults had access to the internet the year HIPAA entered the fray, and the world’s first email site, Hotmail, was introduced the same year.

In many ways, we have entered a whole new world since then, especially where electronic health records (EHRs), patient data security, and telemedicine are concerned. But HIPAA has evolved with the times. In fact, HIPAA’s Security Rule lays out a national standard of physical, technical, and administrative protections designed to prevent unauthorized access of patient data. Under the HIPAA Security Rule, healthcare facilities and third-party organizations that collect and/or store patient data must set up adequate defenses against potential threats, and ensure that employees are following compliance guidelines. 

Advancements in Medical Tech and Data Security

The healthcare industry may be slow to adopt change because, in the literal sense, lives depend on it. If new tech fails, whether it’s software or machinery, patients may die. Therefore, rigorous testing of new approaches, technology, and tools is imperative to the advancement process.

The potential for negative repercussions is perhaps one of the reasons why many healthcare facilities still rely on paper records, referrals, and data collection. When making the shift to digital records, facilities and third-party organizations must take precautions in regards to the paper documents they’re responsible for. Fortunately, HIPAA has guidelines in place regarding the proper destruction of paper records to ensure patient privacy and data security. Mandatory retention laws for documents also exist.

HIPAA requires that medical records be retained for six years from the date of creation or last use, whichever is later. Some states require a longer period of record retention, and healthcare facilities must comply with state law. Following the mandatory retention period, medical records and pertinent documents should be securely shredded to avoid the possibility of a data breach. According to HIPAA, a properly destroyed medical record is one that is “unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise unable to be reconstructed,” which is why secure shredding is the preferred method of medical-related document destruction.

Final Thoughts

The demand for IT solutions and improved data security for EHRs continue to play a major role in the healthcare industry. Improved security measures could result in lower healthcare costs and improved trust in the system as a whole. When it comes down to it, there’s no reason for the healthcare industry to continue to fall behind other industries where patient privacy is concerned.

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