Protecting Sensitive Healthcare Data: A Two-Part Triage Series on Cybersecurity Risks in the Telehealth Era

Part One: The Risks of Cybersecurity in the Health System

In a two-part Triage series, Sarah Carlins and Jianne McDonald delve into two recent initiatives by the Department of Health and Human Services that tackle cybersecurity risks faced by hospitals and health systems across the nation. Over the past five years, cybersecurity incidents involving healthcare providers have seen a significant increase. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within HHS reported a nearly 300% surge in large data breaches involving ransomware from 2018 to 2022. With interoperability being a key government priority and remote care models gaining popularity, the demand for big data to support complex technologies poses ongoing risks to healthcare providers.

In the first part of the series, Sarah Carlins and Jianne McDonald examine recent recommendations by OCR for healthcare providers and patients regarding cybersecurity measures in telehealth. They also discuss the federal government’s emphasis on effective communication about the privacy and security of electronic health information as essential for quality care in telehealth settings.

Healthcare providers are facing an increased risk of cyber attacks due to their reliance on technology. As more sensitive patient data is being collected and stored digitally, hackers are becoming more adept at stealing this information for financial gain or nefarious purposes. In fact, according to a report by Accenture, healthcare is now one of the most targeted industries for cyber attacks globally.

One major issue that has been highlighted is interoperability – the ability of different systems to communicate with each other seamlessly. This is critical in healthcare because it allows doctors and other medical professionals to access patient records from multiple sources quickly and easily. However, it also increases vulnerabilities as it requires sharing data between various systems that may not be fully secured or protected against potential threats such as malware or phishing attacks.

To address these challenges, OCR has issued new guidelines that require healthcare providers to take certain steps to protect patient data both online and offline. These include implementing strong password policies, conducting regular security audits, using encryption technologies to safeguard sensitive information, training employees on best practices for handling confidential data, and establishing clear protocols for reporting incidents if they do occur.

Patients are also encouraged to play an active role in protecting their own personal health information (PHI). This includes creating strong passwords when logging into online accounts related to their care, avoiding clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments without verifying their authenticity first, regularly reviewing statements from insurance companies or other payers for any unusual activity or charges related to their PHI, and reporting any suspected breaches immediately so they can be investigated thoroughly before further damage occurs.

In conclusion

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