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Tetiana MatviiokTania MatviiokContent Manager

Healthcare Data Security: The Overview of Threats and Safety Measures

Organizational and technical security solutions to prevent network intrusions and system errors

One’s experience with healthcare is often a very sensitive issue to discuss. Few people want their personal health information to be seen by anyone else but a medical service provider.

healthcare data security

Data privacy is a major concern among the people who consider using an online medical care platform. As a service provider, can you make sure that the privacy of your users and patients is safe? Sure you can if you understand why patient information safety should be your highest priority and what are the threats, if you learn the basics of data security in healthcare, if you follow the legal data protection guidelines, and if you trust your project only to a decent team of developers. Too many if’s? Let’s look through them one-by-one.

Why Information Safety Should Be a Priority?

Healthcare systems contain three types of valuable information:
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The right to privacy is one of the basic human rights. Health is what most people choose to keep private. Should it be a physical illness or a mental disorder, people are often embarrassed to talk about their problems because diseases are never appealing or pleasant. For this reason, they want to keep medical data private. If such patient information is disclosed, a lot of psychological and social harm can be done. The fact that health information is accessed by strangers can make patients anxious or depressed. Also, if it goes public, especially if the person is a celebrity or a well-known politician, it may badly damage their reputation.

Not only personal health information or other medical records can be found in healthcare systems. They may also contain valuable financial data. If a wrongdoer obtains access to this information, lots of patients, doctors, or the institution itself may have their money stolen.

Also, there are some personal data, such as addresses, phone numbers, or e-mails. In case it is stolen, these credentials can be used to break into one’s social media profiles. This data can be sold for targeted marketing purposes so that a person will constantly receive annoying advertising calls or messages. In the worst-case scenario, a person can fall victim to blackmailers, harassers, or persecutors. 

What Are the Threats?

Healthcare cybersecurity can be affected by a range of factors:
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Electronic health records are very sensitive data by their nature. Who may need it? Hackers may try to breach the system in order to get private information about some people, which can later be used for blackmailing or defamation. They may also sell it to advertisers or use it for personal purposes, for instance, to obtain prescription medication. More than that, if cyber offenders break into the system, they may install ransomware, which would hinder the normal functioning of the application or platform. In this case, the healthcare institution will have to pay a ransom, which may be a huge sum of money. A money loss combined with a bitter experience of being the victim of cyber crime absolutely does not work in favor of the healthcare business or its patients.

The unsecured network connection or general-access computers also impose a significant risk because they are susceptible to being breached. If a business decides to save money on installing a fully-protected web network and secure hardware, they risk losing much more as the result of a data breach.

Medical data should be stored for many years since health records need to be continuous and comprehensive for future treatments to be efficient and effective. As a result, medical systems deal with an immense amount of data. A single system error can result in the loss of all the vital information. Therefore, ensuring that the system can withstand heavy data load is another important data safety measure to be taken. In addition, the malfunction of the healthcare app, either caused deliberately or happening accidentally, may negatively affect the patient outcome. The system may stop responding in case of emergency, compile wrong medical recipes, give wrong recommendations, or fail to detect a problem. In medical settings where the slightest mistake can cause health complications or even be fatal, malfunctioning must be prevented by all means.

People you work with also pose a threat to healthcare data security. Surely, the hiring and training process is organized in a way that it should identify all the suspicious people. However, you can never be a hundred percent sure that all your colleagues are honest and loyal. The ability to access patient data can give your corrupt employees an opportunity to abuse power. To prevent this, the system should have different levels of data access and an admin page.

And another very important risk, which is particularly topical for the healthcare industry, is a waste of time. No second should be wasted when it comes to patient treatment, especially in urgent cases. The healthcare security measures that you choose to implement to ensure protection from all the threats mentioned above should be carried out automatically, seamlessly, and instantly. You employees should be trained to act immediately and decisively, and your healthcare system should be technically sound.

What Is Healthcare Data Security?

Data security is a set of information safety measures including various technical security solutions and employee training.

Prior research and regular risk assessment

When designing a healthcare system, you need to consider all the stages of system usage in order to identify weak spots and potential healthcare cybersecurity loopholes. For this reason, you should conduct a comprehensive discovery stage, and a professional Business Analyst or UX designer can help you with it.Moving on, as the world of technology is advancing, cyber criminals become more and more skilled. You should conduct regular risk assessment and management sessions to make sure that your healthcare security system is up-to-date and the application or web platform is impervious to healthcare data breaches.

Technical security solutions

Data encryption

Information should be encrypted to be accessed or decoded only by users with the right key. This is how unwarranted users will not be able to access sensitive data. The data encryption can be conducted with a symmetric or asymmetric key – your development team will help you choose the more appropriate method. You may also encrypt your private network with the help of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) tool. This way, nobody outside your network will see the data coming in or out of your computer. Network security protocols, such as Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTPS), Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), and Secure Socket Layer (SSL), also serve this important purpose.

Database dump

To ensure data loss prevention or to be immune to ransomware, you should regularly back up your data. By implementing a regular database dump, you will make sure that no patient data is ever lost as you will always be able to restore the previous version.

Usage tracking system

Another healthcare information security solution is to develop a system to track user behavior. Logging all the actions taking place in the system may help you analyze the performance of your platform. In case an error occurs or an internal data leak happens, you can easily find the guilty party by looking through the logs.

Regular software update

Outdated software creates numerous loopholes for cyber criminals. If the application or platform is regularly updated and constantly supported, the system is less susceptible to offenders. Also, it is advisable to introduce best practice for all the employees to update their system passwords on a monthly basis.

Employee training

The staff should be trained to understand the importance of protected health information, to recognize phishing attempts, to identify hazardous web pages or files, to clean the computer system, and to act properly in case of a system error. Regular training sessions and workshops should be conducted to make sure that all employees are on the same page, well-aware of how important patient data loss prevention measures are, and devoted to the organization.

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What About the Law?

When developing a healthcare system, it is vital to ensure that it complies with HIPAA security rules, GDPR, and local laws, as well as to request the signature of patient consent.

Following legal requirements is another security measure, which is so important and large-scale that it is worth a different article to observe the topic. Here, I will try to go through the essential legal data security concepts.

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HIPAA security rules serve four basic functions: keeping electronic health records secure, keeping health information private, simplifying administrative processes, and ensuring insurance portability. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was introduced in 1996 to ensure the safety of medical information of patients and service providers. Protected health information is its highest priority, so it comprises three types of regulations: administrative, physical, and technical ones. 

GDPR (The General Data Protection Regulation) is a set of rules introduced in 2016 by the European Union for the purpose of ensuring data privacy and protection. The regulations are universal and concern all businesses regardless of the industry or field they operate in. 

Local laws differ from state to state, from city to city. It is important to be aware of the local legal requirements and to make sure that the system closely follows them in order to prevent issues with law enforcement.

Patient consent is an important legal tool, the aim of which is to ensure that both a patient and a healthcare institution are one the same page in terms of how the patient data is going to be used. A proper healthcare system should inform the user about its data security policies. Signing patient consent, the user confirms that they understand and agree with the healthcare information security policies.

Who to Trust?

You should choose technical experts with a transparent and ethical approach to providing software development services.

To develop a healthcare mobile app or a web platform that will be both safe and helpful, you need to have two types of expertise: medical and technical. Few people are lucky enough to have both, and it is absolutely normal. While you are doing your best to handle healthcare-related tasks, find a custom software development company to assist you with the technical aspect.

If you want your future software product to be reliable, high-quality, and safe for a user, while coming at a reasonable cost, find a vendor with an ethical approach to software development and healthcare cybersecurity. If you trust KeenEthics, we will gladly become this vendor for you! For more about how we ensure the safety of your data, check this article on information security.

Do you want to create a healthcare app?

Find out more about how the healthcare app development is conducted, what the essential challenges are, and how they can be solved.