All over the world, data is being produced, stored and shared at a breakneck pace. However, regardless of the system, there is a risk that this data will be compromised.
All over the world, data is being produced, stored and shared at a breakneck pace. However, regardless of the system, there is a risk that this data will be compromised. Security breaches and cybercrime are commonplace and data protection is essential to prevent unauthorized access and exploitation.
With the pandemic, the use of digital has spread and now most procedures are performed online, including medical follow-up and some assistance services thanks to teleconsultation. Although the digitization of documents and processes is an undeniable progress, it automatically leads to an increasing exposure of personal data which, in the healthcare sector, can have serious consequences.
According to a report released in 2021, healthcare services are one of the top sectors affected by data breaches. Last year, the number of accidents was the highest on record, with 45 million people affected worldwide, a tripling in three years. In 2022, the threat has only increased, especially due to exogenous factors such as the war in Ukraine. The financial impact of an attack is obviously significant, particularly given the hefty penalties involved in the event of a data breach. However, there are also concerns about the quality of patient care and the risk of compromising patient privacy. Indeed, cyberattacks can disrupt access to patients’ electronic health records, as well as diagnostic technologies, appointment scheduling and teleconsultation platforms, cause delays in patient care, and generally undermine trust between patients and healthcare professionals . For example, the attack on a hospital center in the south of Ile de France prevented access to software and digital files for 2 months, forcing the institution to activate its white plan (and go back to the era of the handwritten file ).
Therefore, more than ever, healthcare professionals must exercise absolute rigor in data security, not only for the operational and financial consequences, but also and above all to protect the health of patients and ensure their safety. All health care facilities and medical institutions are therefore confronted and must therefore implement measures to protect themselves against these new risks.
Earthworks: an adapted IT infrastructure
For starters, upgrading your IT infrastructure is essential. While it is impossible to guarantee 100% protection, due to the increasing sophistication and volume of attacks, keeping your computer system up to date is a prerequisite for any cybersecurity strategy. This system will be better able to improve the detection, neutralization and then remediation of an attack, or even simply prevent it from happening.
An adequate IT infrastructure includes, in particular, features for encryption, recovery and backup of stored and transmitted data, as well as multi-factor authentication of connections. It is also essential to develop a security incident response plan so that an attack can be quickly identified, assessed and contained.
The basics: secure access to patient information
The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gives all EU citizens the right to know what personal data organizations hold about them, why they hold it and to which third parties they disclose it. This right of access can be done electronically or by post and the organization has one month to provide a copy of the data held (in a readable format). Citizens are increasingly aware of the importance of their personal data and can be expected to exercise this right more regularly.
Responding to these requests can take a long time. Without forgetting that there is the risk of granting usurpers access. For this reason it is extremely important that the managers of health facilities know the correct procedure for validating the identity of the applicant and thus granting access safely.
Bearing walls: the implementation of best practices in cybersecurity
Everyone should be able to know and access clear and concise written data security policies. This should include proper use of computers, telephones and other devices. It is also essential to provide cybersecurity training to learn how to remain vigilant against potential phishing and malware attacks.
When working remotely, especially on sensitive files, formal training in privacy policies and security tools is also imperative. For optimal remote work security, it is recommended that the organization develop formal policies on the following: conducting work activities on personal computers or phones, copying work files to personal devices, sending company files to personal email accounts or non-corporate, printing business documents from home and using personal USB drives to store business information.
Healthcare providers should also ensure that all third-party partners are compliant and have adequate data security measures in place. Any external organization with access to patient data is a potential data exposure risk.
Finishes: safe destruction of paper documents
While digital transformation has taken hold in the healthcare sector, it is a particular sector that remains dependent on paper documents. Therefore, any data security protocol must also consider the secure storage and destruction of physical documents. Despite innovations and advances towards digitization, the reality is that paper documents will continue to exist in the healthcare sector.
When it’s time to digitize old records and physical documents can be discarded, they must be shredded in compliance with data privacy and compliance regulations to avoid penalties, fines or lawsuits. Standard desktop shredders typically don’t offer a fully compliant process, so using an outside provider is essential. They must be ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 and EN 15713 certified – the highest levels of security for deleting confidential data.
In addition, shredding operations must be fully monitored by a 24-hour video surveillance system and all materials must be handled by personnel with security clearance.
Finally, information compliance is an ever-evolving field, it can be beneficial to hire consultants who keep up with evolving regulations and practices and who will ensure that effective, cross-cutting information governance is in place. In a world where data breaches can cause serious damage, health data security is an absolute necessity.