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Cybersecurity: How Vigilance and Training Can Safeguard Your Practice

Safeguard Your Practice

There is a sacred trust typically established between doctor and patient, and if that bond does not develop or there is a breach of trust, patients are likely to seek care elsewhere.

This trusted bond typically pertains to medical care and a doctor’s philosophy, approach and manner; however, it also extends to patient information and their expectation of privacy under HIPAA. This means medical practices must take extra vigilant steps to safeguard patient data, which is very challenging in the digital age as many practices have abandoned paper and adopted electronic health record systems.

While there are many benefits to having electronic patient information, clearly there are risks. The biggest potential risk is that patient information is not properly safeguarded from cyber criminals and other nefarious players.

Make Cybersecurity a Priority

While cybersecurity may not be on top of every medical practitioners importance list, it should be. While most industries are exposed, the healthcare industry has the additional burden and promise by law of protecting patient information. For that reason, cybersecurity for medical practices takes on additional urgency and responsibility.

And not surprisingly, as the world — and especially medical practitioners — were distracted with the COVID-19 pandemic and, in many cases, pivoting to telehealth and working from home, cyber criminals set their sights on creating even more havoc. New stay-at-home work habits on a large scale inadvertently opened the door for cyber criminals to infiltrate unprotected networks, computers and mobile devices. 

Ransomware on the Rise

Ransomware is one expanding cybercrime tactic that medical practices should learn about in addition to other more familiar hacking techniques such as phishing. Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid to the hacker (or the ransomware is removed by IT specialists).

Since 2016, ransomware attacks on medical practices have been on the rise and have resulted in possible breaches of personal information belonging to 6.65 million patients. Then there is the costs of damages/ransom paid and downtime and other disruptions caused by cyber crime.

Because medical practices handle immense amounts of private and personal information about their patients, they are increasingly attractive targets for cyber attacks. Valuable information such as patient social security numbers, demographics, etc., are often stored in medical records.

Protect Your Patients and Your Practice

While the cyber risk numbers and potential damage are alarming, it is important to know there are concrete ways to protect your medical practice and improve the security of patient information. Healthcare cybersecurity issues are constantly evolving so medical practices of all sizes must stay on their toes to avoid online threats.

Our guide this month, Cybersecurity: Protect Your Practice and Your Patients’ Privacy,  walks you through cyber crime statistics for medical practices and reveals system vulnerabilities, data storage, mobile device safety and best practices for at-home workers, information about firewalls, anti-virus software and encryption, and the importance of creating a data security culture in your medical practice.

No physician or medical practice wants to damage their reputation (more on reputation management) or lose patient trust, especially to cyber criminals. Be proactive and make cybersecurity education, training and deployment a top priority of your practice. Your vigilance will pay off many times over.