How Medical Practices Can Protect Patient Data

healthcare cybersecurity

Cyberattacks may be on the rise, but there are important steps hospitals and medical practices can take to protect patient data.

As more and more healthcare organizations take advantage of digital technology, patient data becomes increasingly difficult to secure. With this vulnerability comes the risk of cyber attacks, where bad actors hack into a network to steal valuable information or even disable an entire business. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime — the fastest growing crime in the United States — will cost businesses around the globe upwards of $6 trillion by 2021. 

Any organization that uses connected devices is vulnerable to cybersecurity risks — and healthcare providers are no exception. Aside from credit card numbers from billing statements or personal information like addresses, patient records are often traded on the dark web. 

In light of these growing threats, here’s what hospitals and medical practices need to know about keeping patient data safe. 

Two Common Security Risks Facing Healthcare Providers

The rise of digital devices is bringing about transformative changes in the healthcare industry. On one hand, wearables empower patients to monitor their own health and avoid time-consuming trips to the doctor. Further, research has shown that 36 percent of patients share information from their digital health devices with their healthcare providers. With this accurate, up-to-the-minute data, doctors are able to craft more nuanced treatment plans for their patients. 

However, wearables also place sensitive health information at risk. The following are two major security threats facing healthcare providers who rely on digital devices:

Attacks on IoT Devices

IoT devices are difficult to secure because they depend on an open source of information. Since these devices are constantly pulling information from the Internet, they are critically exposed to hacking. Most of the time, cyberattackers use connected devices as stepping stones to access other valuable information, like piggybacking on a smartwatch’s connection to a phone or computer that houses credit card information. However, as IoT devices acquire more features, cybercriminals may come to see them as viable targets in and of themselves.

IoT devices are also hard to secure because they are not standardized across the industry. The security features these products possess, if any, are left entirely up to the manufacturer. Many companies prioritize convenience, cost, and functionality over security and leave IoT devices vulnerable. 

For these reasons and more, attacks on IoT devices have tripled in 2019 to over 2.9 billion events. As more smart devices connect with the cloud, the IoT’s security gaps will likely widen. 

Ransomware Attacks 

Ransomware attacks in the U.S. are growing exponentially — the U.S. Department of Justice even calls them “the new business model for cybercrime.” In fact, it’s estimated that a business falls victim to a ransomware attack every 14 seconds, but by 2021 that number could be down to 11 seconds. 

During a ransomware attack, the cyberattacker will hold a company’s files, financial information, and work production hostage until decision makers pay an exorbitant fee in order to regain access. Sometimes criminals threaten to destroy valuable files unless payment is made within a certain period of time. 

These kinds of attacks leverage the power of a high pressure situation, a ticking clock, and the anxiety brought on by the thought of losing files forever. Hospitals are prime targets for hackers dealing in ransomware because, unfortunately, it’s easier to force them into a pay-out. When hospital systems are compromised, patients’ lives are in danger, causing leaders to give in and pay the ransom. 

How Can Hospitals and Medical Practices Manage These Risks?

In order to ward off cyber attacks, hospitals and medical practices must make sure they are up-to-date on the latest security and privacy standards. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets out ways for healthcare providers to keep patient information safe, and by taking steps to comply with these regulations, HCPs also wind up employing cybersecurity best practices.    

From there, cybersecurity solutions become more granular. It’s important to always encrypt patient information, no matter how sensitive. Healthcare organizations can proactively prepare for attacks by backing up critical data, training employees on how to avoid falling for ransomware traps, and using anti-virus filters to weed out suspicious links or emails.   

Further, in order to address patients’ concerns about cybersecurity, healthcare providers may want to highlight their security measures in digital marketing campaigns. Ad copy could emphasize that privacy is critical to a high standard of care and the website’s FAQ section could outline extensive security precautions. Medical marketers can also demonstrate their commitment to getting things back on track in the case of a breach through thoughtful email campaigns or community outreach. 

With cybersecurity best practices and the help of strategic digital marketing, hospitals and medical practices are well-equipped to protect patient data in a changing digital landscape. 

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