The Most Common Data Privacy Challenges in Healthcare

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Before modern digital technology had become widespread in the healthcare sector, patient information was manually written down and stored in folders and file cabinets. Today, healthcare staff utilize digital systems to enter and store patient information, while patients themselves can access test results and medical histories online.

The development of medical information technology has made patient data more secure from physical threats. But what about digital? Unfortunately, cybercriminals are finding ways to adapt as medical technology continues to evolve. Today, here are some of the biggest data privacy challenges that the healthcare industry is facing.

Outdated hardware and software

Newer and more sophisticated software requires hardware that can support it, which is exactly the problem for hospitals struggling to replace their equipment. Programs like CIT platforms won’t be able to run on very old hardware. If they run at all, they may be inefficient at best.

On the other hand, outdated software may no longer be supported by its manufacturers. This makes healthcare facilities more susceptible to cyber attacks as old software ceases to receive security patches.

Whether it’s outdated hardware or software (or both), healthcare providers increase their data security risk by continuing to use them. Not only that, but they are also missing out on the increased efficiency and functionality that newer equipment provide.

Increasing attack surface

Electronic health records (EHRs) allow providers to store patient data digitally and share that data with other healthcare professionals. They are easily accessible, less prone to human error, and make healthcare processes more efficient. Gone are the days when primary care doctors have to fax medical information to specialists and vice versa. With EHRs, healthcare providers can easily access complete patient data in seconds.

However, the digital storage of patient data also increases risks to data privacy. Before, someone would only have to gain access to hospital file cabinets to know a person’s medical history (and it’s impossible to memorize what’s written on patient files unless you make copies or take them with you, which increases the risk of detection). Now, they would have to hack into a network to gain access to massive quantities of patient data, steal it, and use it for cybercriminal activities, often without detection.

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User error

User error can come from both healthcare staff and patients themselves. Medical technology aims to reduce human errors as much as possible, but they cannot be eliminated (at least not yet). There is still a risk of healthcare providers inadvertently exposing patient data to cybercriminal attacks (for example, storing patient data on portable devices and then losing those devices). With proper training, however, healthcare providers can reduce this risk.

On the other hand, patients aren’t as careful as healthcare staff when handling their medical data. Storing digital records on unsecured folders, sending results via e-mail or chat, and sharing passwords to patient portals are just some of the ways that patients can put their personal information at risk.

Willful ignorance

Cybercriminals do not discriminate, and this is true not just for the healthcare industry. Small clinics are just as susceptible to data breaches as large hospitals. In fact, cybercriminals target small facilities even more because of their increased vulnerability compared to larger hospitals.

However, many small organizations believe that cyberattacks won’t happen to them because criminals target large facilities where they can make big banks. This type of thinking puts small healthcare facilities at risk of disastrous data breaches, which unfortunately yields extremely harmful consequences for patient privacy.

Limited cybersecurity resources and education

One of the biggest challenges for healthcare providers is the lack of resources for cybersecurity. With a limited budget, providers often face a choice between buying critical equipment or hiring more staff and investing in cybersecurity and training. The former option helps save more lives, which usually leaves cybersecurity as a lesser priority.

Along with the lack of resources comes the lack of cybersecurity education. Healthcare staff plays a huge role in keeping patient data secure. But without enough education and training, they may not be fully aware of the risks that come with the risk of digitally storing patient data, much less the things that must be done to protect that data.

What can healthcare providers do to overcome these challenges? Investing in high-quality hardware and software is a good start. Combined with adequate training and education for all staff, and providers can significantly minimize their vulnerability to data breaches or, at the very least, reduce the potential fallout in case a cyber-attack does happen.

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