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Of all the ways digital technologies have touched and improved our lives over the years, applications in healthcare could be some of the most consequential.
From greater mobility among providers thanks to digital health records to teleconferencing with doctors when travel isn’t possible, healthcare technology isn’t just here to stay — it promises a sea change in the way compassionate and efficient care is rendered.
But along with these invaluable tools comes an even greater responsibility among healthcare organizations to take cybersecurity — and the integrity of their patients’ and customers’ sensitive information — seriously. Here are five ways to make sure your organization brings its best efforts to cybersecurity.
1. Segment Your IT Networks Based on Utility and Risk
Given how dependent we’ve become on digital and wireless connectivity and the liability they expose our institutions to, it’s becoming vital that healthcare organizations keep the most sensitive parts of their IT infrastructure segmented, or siloed, from the rest of their networks.
The availability of commercial and industrial firewalls, virtual LAN and advanced routers remove any excuse for keeping patient records or other sensitive information on an otherwise heavily trafficked part of your network. By segmenting your network, your healthcare organization can keep medical and non-medical digital assets separate and secure, ensuring that even if cyber-attackers access one pillar of your digital infrastructure, they won’t necessarily have access to the rest.
2. Take AI and Automation Seriously as Cybersecurity Allies
Advancements in automation and machine learning have been both swift and consequential. Many industries are in the process of reckoning with the power and possibilities of automation now that it’s here to stay. But the administration of medicine could prove one of the most interesting use cases we’ve seen.
Automation in healthcare takes the form of networks that use provider-defined protocols to quarantine sensitive data under certain traffic conditions and even automatically isolate and update on-network devices that need patching, and that could constitute a threat to other connected devices. If leveraged correctly, automation could remove lots of human-centric sources of risk — including forgetfulness and poor attention to security hygiene.
3. Ensure Your Employees Understand (And Can React To) Digital Risks
In 2016, according to experts, email breaches were responsible for the loss of 64,000 patient records. The year 2017 saw a stunning 467 percent increase in such incidents, leading industry cybersecurity experts to declare email the likeliest entry point for data thieves in healthcare.
It’s certainly true that email as a technology is not as secure as we’d like to think. But it’s also true that a big part of the failure here is cultural. Not every institution, health-related or otherwise, makes it a priority to train employees on even the basics of phishing techniques as they apply to email.
Suspicious links and unknown senders might raise an eyebrow among your staff, but unless your training has been explicit about not downloading questionable attachments and not sending sensitive information over email when an unknown sender requests it, you’re leaving a huge gap in your cybersecurity — one you couldn’t address by making conscientiousness and discretion a major pillar of your training.
4. Seek Out Secure Technologies That Simultaneously Enhance Productivity
Given how vital and at-risk the world’s healthcare providers are today, it can feel difficult to find a balance between vigorous security and enhanced productivity. But to cut through this myth, we need to look no further than the innovations HIPAA and other security- and privacy-minded regulations have brought about.
It’s long been a matter of convenience for doctors and specialists to exchange text messages concerning medical records and patient status. Medicine is frequently extremely time-sensitive, which makes text messaging a convenient way for relevant parties to get in touch or get on the same page about a patient when it matters most.
The trouble is, this isn’t just a risky way to communicate — under HIPAA, it’s also an illegal one. In fact, ownership over personally identifying or otherwise sensitive digital information has emerged as one of the most significant legal questions of our time. As a result of this greater focus on legal mandates for privacy, the medical community has enjoyed the swift advancement of secure messaging solutions even for doctors who prefer to use their own mobile device while administering care.
Secure single sign-on is another high-technology solution for security and productivity. It simultaneously provides identity management for healthcare providers and helps them better control access to IT infrastructure. With doctors and nurses in mind, it also makes workflows far easier to navigate and cuts down on sign-in time for the (in some cases) several digital applications healthcare workers must use in an average day to take notes, keep track of medications and treatments and generally stay organized.
This is particularly valuable when you consider how this can free up practitioners to spend more time with their patients instead of navigating sign-on screens or trying to remember a half-dozen passwords for each work process.
5. Don’t Go It Alone
If cyber-threats have proliferated in this digital age, so have the number of allies we can call on for help in hardening our security and improving our commitment to patient privacy. As a healthcare practitioner or medical network representative, you owe your organization and your patients the best minds in the business. That might mean securing help from somebody outside your in-house IT team.
Third-party audits and penetration testing frequently uncover gaps in security measures you might not know about otherwise. Think of this as a “second opinion” from somebody who can look at your infrastructure and your security protocols with a fresh perspective and without bias. An outside penetration test or security audit can help you fine-tune your employee training methods and reveal weak points in your defense systems.
Think of it like getting your automobile inspected by a professional annually. You might have quite a bit of experience as a mechanic, but the detailed analysis should be left to somebody who doesn’t drive the car every day and is less likely to overlook something they don’t want to see.
These five suggestions are certainly not the final word on improving the cybersecurity of our healthcare systems and providers — but hopefully, you’ll find them an excellent entry point to the larger world of protecting patients’ digital peace of mind.
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