New technologies have made many medical processes digital, with healthcare organizations relying on data for everything from patient records to appointments and more. The benefits of using technology in healthcare are clear: improved accuracy, efficiency and collaboration, which can lead to better patient outcomes and reduce caregiver burnout. However, this trend also has a flip side. As dependence on technology increases, so does the risk of cyber attacks.
Healthcare organizations are targets for cybercriminals who view patient data as a valuable commodity. Only in 2021. several high-profile healthcare data breaches led to the disclosure of the personal information of 45 million patients. According to Politico, the number of hacks and data breaches at healthcare organizations has nearly doubled in the past year. Likewise, Sophos, a cybersecurity firm, reported this ransomware attacks almost 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 held 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. There are also financial costs and the potential for reputational damage. As cyber threats become more sophisticated and more damaging, it is critical 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 of cyberattacks reveals that these protections are simply not enough, and patients are taking notice .
Healthcare consumers are increasingly aware of the risks posed by data breaches and cyber attacks. In a 2021 Pew Charitable Trusts survey of patient privacy concerns, 62% of respondents said they have “serious privacy concerns” about their PHI.
And their concerns are valid. Across the country, many healthcare workers still use insecure methods, such as texting, faxing and email, to communicate about patients. Unfortunately, this leaves patient information vulnerable to access by unauthorized individuals. Using unsecured methods puts patients at risk of PHI disclosure and can lead to HIPAA violations, which can lead to expensive fines.
Fortunately, there are several steps healthcare organizations can take to ensure they protect patient information from these evolving threats. Some of the most effective measures include:
- Conduct a risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities.
- Implement robust security measures such as encryption and two-factor authentication.
- Training employees how to protect sensitive data.
- Investing in a HIPAA Compliant Communications Solution.
The healthcare industry is under constant threat from cyber attacks. By adopting these and other measures, healthcare organizations can help improve their cybersecurity and reduce risk. Those who fail to do so are likely to face serious consequences.
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