Your right to privacy when it comes to your health records and payments should be a given, but hackers sometimes have other ideas. Cyber criminals routinely break into network systems to access sensitive personal information stored by doctors and healthcare facilities. In 2015 alone, Forbes reports that over 112 million healthcare records were compromised, due to 253 breaches affecting more than 500 individuals. Why is healthcare cybersecurity so hard to maintain? The main reason is that cybersecurity is an ever-changing field, and staying one step ahead of cyber criminals is a major challenge in healthcare data management these days. Roger Neal of Duncan Regional Hospital tells FierceHealthIT that it’s impossible to cretate a completely secure network, and elaborates on the problems currently being faced:
“And with the high volume of work in healthcare to meet all of our current regulatory requirements, the industry is struggling with security.”
So does this mean that healthcare cybersecurity is a lost cause? Of course not. 1 in 5 Americans have been affected by data breaches, and it’s an issue that organizations within the healthcare industry need to prioritize, constantly think about, and improve upon. During Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October, it’s a good time to revisit healthcare security and make it a priority for patients, doctors, and healthcare officials. The Department of Health and Human Services has a basic checklist available for preventing data breaches and improving cybersecurity in the healthcare industry. Here are some of the ways healthcare organizations can help prevent breaches and protect patient privacy:
Reinforce a Culture of Security
Without proper training, many employees won’t think twice about security, and may unknowingly make data vulnerable to loss or allow it to be compromised. Senior level executives need to promote a culture of security in order for everyone in the organization to take it seriously. Human error is one of the leading causes of compromised data, and with more users comes greater risk, especially if some employees use their own devices to access work-related applications. Having strict standards for operating protocol and device use can help prevent security vulnerabilities.
Use Advanced Encryption
Encryption scrambles data and makes it unreadable for unauthorized parties (a key is required to unscramble it). What started as simple code in World War I is now a sophisticated aspect of digital security, and a must for healthcare facilities. Keeping up with emerging encryption technology as it becomes available, such as homomorphic encryption and quantum key distribution will help organizations stay one step ahead of cyber criminals.
Restrict Who Has Access for Complete Healthcare Cybersecurity
Physical and digital access to data can put sensitive records in jeopardy, and restricting access can help reduce the chance of a cyber attack or data loss. Wireless routers should be used only in encryption mode, and physical data storage should be secured and only accessible to a select few people. Patient records should only be shared with the patient’s caregiving team, and patients should have the right to stipulate who may view their records. The more people who have access to data, the more vulnerable it is.
Be Prepared for a Breach
No matter how careful an organization is about implementing best practices for healthcare cybersecurity, there is always the ever-present threat of a data breach, and it’s important to prepare for this possibility. Constant improvements to the security systems, frequent checks for breaches, and a breach response plan are all important for keeping records secure.