Cybersecurity for Healthcare Providers: Safeguarding Patient Privacy and Electronic Health Records

Cybersecurity For Healthcare Providers: Safeguarding Patient Privacy And Electronic Health Records
Health care providers are in charge of enormous amounts of sensitive data pertaining to their patients. The information they store and handle – demographic details, medical histories, billing data, and insurance records – are literally life and death information. This makes the secure handling of electronic health records (EHRs) of the utmost importance.However, despite the vital importance of patient data security, health care providers remain highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Health care providers are often targeted for attack as they continue to use outdated cybersecurity solutions, employ legacy software, and are often unwilling to migrate to more recent data management systems. In this article, we’ll break down why cybersecurity for healthcare providers is essential, what threats exist, and what measures can be taken to safeguard patient privacy and electronic health records.

Why is Cybersecurity in Healthcare Providers Important?

Why Is Cybersecurity In Healthcare Providers Important?

When it comes to personal data breaches, healthcare providers are now the largest risk group in the US. In 2019 alone, healthcare providers experienced more data breaches than the banking, hospitality, or credit card industries. With health data increasingly stored and shared through digital systems, the threat is only growing, making it more important than ever for providers to safeguard the information of their patients.However, a data breach is not only costly but also can be dangerous. Patients need to trust that their providers are taking the necessary steps to protect their sensitive data since a breach can lead to negative outcomes that can affect their lives, privacy, finances, and overall trust with their provider and, by extension, the healthcare system as a whole.For example, if a cybercriminal gains access to electronic health records of a patient and the data is exposed or made public, the patient’s identity can be stolen. Additionally, the cybercriminals can pretend to be the patient, using the information they obtained. This can cause patients to receive the wrong medication or ultimately receive a misdiagnosis.Further, cyber-attacks can happen on clinic devices, like blood glucose meters or insulin pumps, which can be detrimental to patient health. Malicious actors can tamper with the settings of such devices and cause life-threatening scenarios. All these reasons demonstrate that cyber-attacks can have serious ramifications on patient health, both physically and mentally.

What are the Cybersecurity Threats for Healthcare Providers?

What Are The Cybersecurity Threats For Healthcare Providers?

Cybersecurity threats continue to increase, evolve, and become more sophisticated. In the case of healthcare providers, these threats often target their EHR systems. The health care sector stores 30% of an individual’s personally identifiable information (PII) and Protected Health Information (PHI) that have become prime targets for cyber-attacks. Major threats include:

  • Ransomware – This is a type of malware that takes control of a provider’s data until a ransom is paid.
  • Phishing – This is a stealth attack where emails bait the users to click on links that can compromise their devices or steal data via password theft.
  • Social engineering – Cybercriminals psychologically manipulate people working in a healthcare setup to divulge sensitive data through manipulation techniques or simply by preying on trust.
  • Malware Injection Attacks – Cybercriminals deploy malicious code into systems to steal or modify data.
  • Employee errors – Human error like misconfiguration of servers or databases or sending confidential data to the wrong person via work email or personal emails are some examples.

How can Healthcare Providers Safeguard Patient Privacy and EHR?

How Can Healthcare Providers Safeguard Patient Privacy And Ehr?

Healthcare providers must take steps to protect themselves and their clients from cyber-attacks. While the healthcare sector cybersecurity infrastructure lags behind other industries, there are moves towards better protection and defense. Here are several measures that healthcare providers can adopt to safeguard patient privacy and EHR:

1. Implement Strong Passwords

Establishing secure passwords is one of the easiest steps that Health Care Providers can take to secure their systems. The passwords should be strong and must be changed regularly. Establishing password policies to educate employees is key. Healthcare providers could also consider having multi-factor authentication systems, ensuring that the person trying to access an EHR is who they claim to be.

2. Regularly Update Software and Operating Systems

Cybercriminals often exploit vulnerabilities in operating systems and software. Regular software updates are important for closing potential avenues for attackers. Equally important is ensuring that unsupported software is removed from the system.

3. Keep the Employees Educated

Human errors cause many data breaches, and so adequate training for employees is important. Healthcare providers must educate staff on security risks and encourage best practices such as not opening unknown emails or taking network security measures such as password-protected screen-savers.

4.Use Encryption

Encryption is a key method for protecting data in transit. Healthcare providers should ensure that encryption is used for confidential communication so that data transmissions are scrambled and difficult to break.

5.Backup Your Data Frequently

Backing up data is key in case of a cyber-attack or a natural disaster. Healthcare providers can backup all data regularly, preferably every day, to a secondary site or cloud service provider. Additionally, disaster recovery programs can be developed to help reduce the effects of any data loss.

6. Deploy Next-Generation Firewalls and Keep them Updated

Deploying firewalls can protect providers from many cyber-attacks and can improve network security. The use of next-generation firewalls can also help providers defend against cyber-attackers since they provide advanced threat detection and can lessen the risk of data exfiltration. Lastly, updated firewalls help ensure that all new and existing security vulnerabilities are neutralized.

7. Conduct Regular Risk Assessments

Risk assessments should be an ongoing practice in healthcare providers. Re-assessing all systems, identifying potential vulnerabilities, and putting in place appropriate solutions to lessen or eliminate any weaknesses can help improve overall data security.

8. Outsource Security to Expert Managed IT Providers

One solution offered by healthcare providers is outsourcing data security to Managed IT service providers. Such service providers specialize in cybersecurity and can provide healthcare providers with 24/7 network and user security system monitoring, and carry out regular vulnerability checks. Outsourcing data security to specialized cybersecurity firms takes the burden off healthcare providers and ensures that experts are looking out for cyber-attacks.

9. Have an Incident Response Plan

Having an incident response plan is vital to healthcare providers in the event of a breach. Providers can have a detailed plan that outlines procedures to quickly identify, respond, and contain breaches in a timely and efficient manner. This way, cyber threats can be nullified before they have the opportunity to do substantial harm.

10. Stay Up-to-Date

Keeping up-to-date with the latest cybersecurity trends, threats, and attacks is crucial. Cyber threats are constantly evolving, and so healthcare providers must keep up-to-date with the latest methods of detection and prevention. Staying updated helps healthcare providers prepare for and prevent attacks by evaluating their policies and seeing where they need to improve.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

Healthcare providers must improve their cybersecurity posture and safeguard the privacy of their patients’ sensitive data. The security of patient’s PHI and PII rests with both the healthcare provider and the patient. Healthcare facilities must act proactively to implement suitable cyber-security measures like strong passwords, updated software, firewalls, employee training, backup data, risk assessments, and having an incident-response plan. Cybersecurity firms can help detect and counteract cyber-attacks the moment they occur or before they can do extensive harm.

Overall, we can only hope that the healthcare providers take the steps needed to secure all sensitive health data by implementing preventive measures and actively identifying and mitigating any threats that come their way.

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