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The Importance of Cybersecurity in Healthcare

The Importance of Cybersecurity in Healthcare

Posted by on May 21st 2024

Patient care and safety is at the heart of the medical field. In the digital age, this applies to more than the hands-on care they receive in a clinical setting. More patient data is collected, shared, and stored online than ever before. So, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that healthcare providers must implement the proper protocols to safeguard sensitive patient information and keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

What’s at Risk?

Cybersecurity attacks on the healthcare system pose significant risks due to the sensitive nature of the data involved, with possible consequences for both medical institutions and patients themselves.

Medical records contain a treasure trove of personally identifiable information like a patient’s name, address, and Social Security number that fraudsters may want to get their hands on. Plus, healthcare providers often store financial information and payment data, which are also prime targets for cyber attacks. These incidents not only jeopardize patient safety and privacy but also enable identity theft, financial fraud, and other criminal activity.

For healthcare organizations, the cost of a breach is staggering. According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost of a healthcare breach in the United States is $10.93 million, which has grown by 53% since 2020.

These types of attacks are devastating for all victims involved–the institution and the patients whose records are exposed. Unfortunately, hackers’ tactics and techniques continue to evolve and become more sophisticated with the help of modern technology, requiring healthcare organizations to be more diligent about their cybersecurity protocols.

How HIPAA Applies

Even before internet-based systems and digital records were prevalent in the healthcare industry, these organizations have been subject to strict regulations regarding the protection of patient data.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the most widely referenced in the United States. It requires healthcare organizations to protect patients’ sensitive health information and keep their data confidential.

Under HIPAA, organizations must implement adequate safeguards and security measures, regularly conduct risk assessments, keep staff trained on privacy practices, and obtain patient consent for any data usage or sharing. Thus, a data breach may create non-compliance issues for a healthcare organization if investigations show it resulted from its failure to meet HIPAA requirements.

Preventative Measures

Though cybersecurity incidents are on the rise, there are preventative measures healthcare organizations and medical professionals can take to help protect patient data, including:

  • Data encryption: Encrypt all patient data at rest or in transit to prevent a potential breach or interception
  • Strict access controls: Limit who has access to what information, ensuring only authorized users are allowed access to sensitive data
  • User authentication: Enable multi-factor authentication methods to prevent unauthorized use of a provider’s account to access patient information
  • Regular audits: Conduct regular audits and risk assessments to uncover potential system vulnerabilities that need to be patched or updated
  • Establish an incident response plan: Create and train staff on your cybersecurity incident response plan, informing providers what they should do if they suspect there has been a breach or attack