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Protecting Data in a Digital Health Viewpoint

by Samantha Kalany

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

This is definitely the year of all types of changes for the healthcare industry, especially with the inability to nonchalantly schedule and in-person visit with your primary care physician. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept many on their toes to keep socially and physically distanced from each other, to help stop the spread of the virus, especially to those who are more susceptible to contracting it. We saw an uptick in virtual doctors’ visits and telemedicine/Telehealth interactions. dataPatients are able to communicate with their healthcare professionals on their mobile device to explain and showcase symptom, and in return that staffed professional can prescribe a treatment plan, right from the comfort of your couch within the palm of your hand. While this is all good and exciting, this opportunity opens up a window for vulnerability. How will my personal/private health information be protected from cybercriminals? Was this Telehealth video call a safe connection? There are several questions that could arise and result in a lack of trust for these services in the future, so it’s up to digital health specialists to inform the general public that their most precious data points are protected, no matter what the occasion.

Healthcare environments can be a huge target for cybercriminals, as they often store sensitive and personal data, and those areas alone have received even more threats since the start of the pandemic. A report from INTERPOL highlights that COVID-19 related phishing attacks are starting to create additional concerns. There’s been an uptick in ransomware, as well, that directly correlates to an organizations’ ability to deploy remote systems quickly enough to deploy Telehealth service offerings. This type of technology offering is essential in providing the essential nourishment that comes along with patient care, but at the same time these offerings can look like entry points for cybercriminals.data

HIPAA regulations hold the biggest impact on healthcare providers in the U.S. right alongside the GDPR, which oversee global operations. This means it’s up to healthcare providers and business associates to ensure that they’re up-to-date on the latest requirements and choose the fellow vendors who are likewise also in compliance with these regulations. The HIPAA Security Rule sets guidelines and standards for administrative, physical, and technical handling of personal health information, but at the same time, the HIPAA Privacy Rule works to limit what information may be used (and in what manner) and disclosed to third parties without prior patient authorization. It’s fair to say that the best practices for healthcare cybersecurity aim to keep with the evolving threat landscape, addressing threats to privacy and data protection on endpoints and in the cloud, and finally safeguarding data while in transit, at rest, and during usage. There are many use cases that can be practiced in order to ensure data is protected better:

  1. Restricting Access to Data and Applications

Organizations can definitely implement access controls to bolster additional protection points by restricting access to specific files of patient information to only those who require such access to perform their jobs. This restriction would require user authentication credentials, ensuring that only authorized users can be in contact with such information. Multi-factor authentication is another good approach in this situation, so a platform can ensure that people are who they say they are.data

  1. Implementing Data Usage Controls

Healthcare organizations can work to use data controls to block specific actions from taking place, especially ones that utilize sensitive data, such as web uploads, unauthorized emails, copying activities to external hard drives, or printing. This type of data discovery plays an important role in ensuring that sensitive data can be identified and tagged to receive proper levels of protection where it’s needed.

  1. Monitoring Usage and Logins

Monitoring who logs into application, what applications they access, and how frequently is important for tracking employees. Getting organized with a log of some sort can prove valuable for auditing processes, or even just to grasp some peace of mind can immensely help organizations to identify areas of concern and strengthen protective measures when necessary.

  1. Encrypting Data when Necessary

Encryption is one of the most useful methods for protecting data within healthcare environments, and with this being said, healthcare providers can make it more difficult for attackers to decipher patient information, even if they are to breach into the database somehow. Additionally, HIPAA rulings have cited that they’ve chosen to leave this choice up to the healthcare organization, specifically, so these companies are granted total freedom on what methods they choose to deem necessary.

  1. Securing Mobile Devices

Mobile Devices are a security risk in any work environment. It’s very common for healthcare providers to utilize mobile devices while on the job, especially when working with patients to enhance the Telehealth experience. Whether it’s a physician utilizing a mobile device or an administrative worker using the device to processing billing and insurance files, mobile devices are necessary. There are quite a few ways to ensure security in this outlet and that includes:data

  • Reconfiguring the device’s settings
  • Mandating stronger passwords
  • Ensuring the ability to wipe a device if lost or stolen
  • Encrypting application data
  • Educating users on best security practices
  • Requiring the device to be regularly updated

Healthcare cybersecurity can be a tricky task to maintain and within healthcare, protecting key data points leads to more time spent on ensuring the positive growth of outcomes, dollars saved on projects, and the reassured confidence within various healthcare systems and facilities. Telehealth isn’t going anywhere and it’s safe to say that these service offerings are here to stay as we progress forward into a digital health environment, so it’s wise to know how we as patients and even the healthcare professionals, on the other side, can work to best protect digital health data points, whenever it’s possible.

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