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Protecting Patient Data in the Digital Age
Digital Healthcare Healthcare

Protecting Patient Data in the Digital Age

By Rajarshi November 22, 2023 - 70 views

Patient data protection is the need of the hour for the healthcare industry, particularly when it comes to a more digital way of doing things. In fact, data privacy in healthcare is even more important, considering the growing costs of cyber-attacks in the sector. As per IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report, $10.1 million is the average cost of a data breach in healthcare.

This indicates 10% growth as compared to 2021 and a whopping 42% increase in comparison to 2020. The financial effect of data breaches covers costs related to responding to incidents, legal charges, remediation, and regulatory fines, if applicable. 

At the same time, the sheer cost of a data breach goes well beyond regular financial implications for healthcare players. Digital age patient data protection is a must and if information is compromised, then it leads to lower confidence in the system and loss of business as patients go to other competitors.

The long-term impact of data breaches can be immensely negative for healthcare players. In the current landscape, where protecting medical data goes hand in hand with digital innovation, there is a pressing need to ensure best practices at all operational levels. 

Steps for Patient Data Protection 

When it comes to ensuring healthcare data security, healthcare players should first evaluate the possible risks and then take measures to safeguard valuable data accordingly. The healthcare industry has become a major target for cyber-criminals owing to the sensitive nature of the data that it holds. Outdated systems and multiple entry points further scale up the risk levels in this case.

A major attack point is through web applications with a view towards compromising patient data. These are applications and tools that healthcare professionals depend on these days. Cyber-criminals are always on the lookout for gaining unauthorised entry into patient data platforms. 

Hackers have also come up with novel methods such as BOLA (broken object-level authorisation). This equates to the manipulation of the rules of the system along with ensuring unauthorised access to restricted information. They can thus go through confidential data and even erase the private records of patients.

There is also the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), which is a network of multiple devices transmitting data in real time for better patient care. While it offers innumerable advantages, the vast amount of sensitive information available makes it an easy target for cyber-criminals as well. Here are some steps that the industry can consider for protecting medical data. 

  • An initial and extensive risk evaluation or assessment. 
  • Identification of possible vulnerabilities or risks throughout digital infrastructure, right from training employees to building awareness about other risks. 
  • Understanding the implications of cyber-attacks. 
  • Complying with specific regulations like the 1988 Privacy Act. 
  • Lowering entry points for databases, systems, network services, and other web-based applications. 
  • Implementation of robust authentication steps to make sure that only authenticated people can access data that is otherwise restricted. 

Some Other Patient Data Protection Strategies 

  • Encryption – This is a tried and tested method to ensure greater data privacy in healthcare. This ensures end-to-end encryption, making sure that health data stays absolutely unreadable for parties who are unauthorised. Encryption technologies safeguard data during storage and transmission alike, thereby lowering the risks of data breaches or interception. 
  • Access Control – Stringent access controls should be set up to lower data access for people who are unauthorised. Multi-factor authentication and role-based access are largely helpful in combating unauthorised access and keeping people from gaining entry into the system. 
  • Tracking and Audits – Digital age patient data safety can also be ensured through regular audits and tracking. Real-time data usage and access monitoring help in swiftly identifying unusual patterns or activities, while detecting any potential breaches before they snowball into major problems. 
  • Data Minimisation – Storing and gathering only the minimum data required for a particular purpose is essential. This will lower the possible effect of any breach while restricting exposure to sensitive data. 
  • Employee Awareness or Training– Healthcare personnel should have more awareness and education regarding data security regulations and protocols. They should also know more about the importance of ensuring proper privacy and the risks of mishandling sensitive data. This will automatically build a solid defensive layer against any breaches of data. 
  • Vendor Safety– In case health data is handled by third-party vendors, they should be made to comply with stringent standards of security. Contracts should clearly outline the requirements for data protection and other responsibilities in this regard. 
  • De-Identification and Anonymisation – Health information may be de-identified or anonymised for the removal of personal identifiers along with lowering the risks of re-identification. This also helps maintain data utility for analysis and research alike. 
  • Incident Response Strategies – These are essential for protecting medical data. Comprehensive plans should be created for taking care of potential breaches of data with targeted response measures to mitigate the impact swiftly and minimise any harm to patients. 

As can be seen, regular risk assessments should be conducted while implementing a defensive strategy that has multiple layers. Healthcare institutions should also be informed about emerging cyber-security threats and other vulnerabilities along with engaging experts to augment internal resources along with providing extensive management and tracking. Through the adoption of best practices in this space, healthcare players can minimise the risks of data breaches to a large extent. 

FAQs

What are the most pressing security challenges in protecting patient data in today’s digital healthcare landscape?

Some of the biggest security challenges in safeguarding patient data include continual vulnerabilities related to unauthorised access, hacking threats, system compromises, multiple entry points, and the lack of proper awareness and education among employees. 

How can healthcare organisations ensure compliance with data protection regulations while managing and storing patient information?

Healthcare organisations can ensure adherence to data protection regulations while storing and managing patient information. They can do this by complying with requisite information handling and data privacy guidelines issued by the authorities in their respective regions, while also having proper data security protocols and audits in place. 

What cyber-security measures and best practices should be adopted to safeguard patient data from cyber threats?

Some of the best cyber-security measures and best practices for protecting patient data include vendor security measures, encryption, data minimisation, regular tracking and audits, access control, de-identification, and more. 

What role do emerging technologies like blockchain and encryption play in enhancing the security of patient data in the digital age?

Emerging technologies like encryption help make medical data unreadable to unauthorised individuals. At the same time, blockchain also enhances data security through smart contracts and inherent principles of cryptography, consensus, and decentralisation. It offers greater control over sensitive data and is near-impossible to tamper with. 

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