Defending affected person information as danger of cyberattacks grows

New technologies have taken many medical processes digital, with healthcare organizations relying on data for everything from patient records to appointments and more. The advantages of using technology in healthcare are clear: improved accuracy, efficiency and collaboration, which can lead to better patient outcomes and reduce caregiver burnout. However, there is also a downside to this trend. As the reliance on technology grows, so does the risk of cyberattacks.

Healthcare organizations are sitting targets for cybercriminals, who view patient data as a valuable commodity. In 2021 alone, several high-profile healthcare data breaches resulted in the exposure of 45M patients’ private information. According to Politico, the number of hacks and information breaches at healthcare organizations has nearly doubled in the last year. Similarly, Sophos, a cybersecurity firm, reported that ransomware attacks nearly doubled from 34% in 2020 to 66% in 2021.

As a result, healthcare organizations are under increasing pressure to protect patient data from malicious actors.

Because of the type of data stored by healthcare organizations, the consequences of these attacks can be devastating, ranging from the theft of sensitive patient information to the disruption of critical care processes. In addition, there are also financial costs and the potential for reputational damage. With cyber threats becoming more sophisticated and even more damaging, it is crucial for healthcare organizations to put cybersecurity at the top of their priority list.

Several safeguards are already in place to protect patient information, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), signed into law in 1996. However, the rise in cyberattacks reveals that these protections are simply not enough, and patients are taking note.

Health consumers are increasingly aware of the risks posed by data breaches and cyberattacks. In a 2021 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts on patient privacy concerns, 62% of respondents said they had “serious privacy concerns” rergarding their PHI.

And their concerns are valid. Across the country, many healthcare workers still use unsecured methods, such as text messaging, fax, and email, to communicate about patients. Unfortunately, this leaves patient information vulnerable to being accessed by unauthorized individuals. Using unsecured methods puts patients at risk of having their PHI exposed and may result in HIPAA violations, which can lead to costly fines.

Fortunately, there are several steps that healthcare organizations can take to ensure they are protecting patient information from these evolving threats. Some of the most effective measures include:

  • Conducting a risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities.
  • Implementing robust security measures, such as encryption and two-factor authentication.
  • Training employees in how to protect sensitive data.
  • Investing in a HIPAA-compliant communication solution.

The healthcare industry is under constant threat from cyberattacks. By adopting these and other measures, healthcare organizations can help to improve their cybersecurity and mitigate risk. Those that fail to do so will likely face serious consequences.

Photo: Traitov, Getty Images

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