Information and Data Security in Telehealth Software: A Critical Component

Data securityThe ability of providers and patients to access and share health data securely places a large responsibility on the healthcare IT professionals who develop EMR, PM, and billing systems. In order for telehealth to be successful, strong information security is needed.  As more healthcare records move online with applications such as HealthVault and GenieMD, concerns remain about the ability of these technologies to keep security intact.  Critical components of information and data security in telehealth software must be developed with forethought toward challenges that will arise with cloud-based computing (where telecommunications equipment is located on the Internet, rather than in a local context).


Why Are Cyber Attacks So Common in Healthcare?

Healthcare is an attractive target for cyber criminals.  First, attackers can often use healthcare organizations’ own information to access medical devices like insulin pumps and pacemakers or gain access to electronic health records (EHRs).  Second, patient identities are more valuable than other types of personal data because they contain the personally identifiable information that is used for fraud.  Lastly, health care providers are not prepared to defend against cyber attacks. They often lack the technical skills and security protocols needed to protect sensitive information on their medical devices, networks, and EHRs.


Top Telehealth Security Risks To Be Aware Of

While telehealth is a safe and effective way to provide care, it can also be vulnerable and risky for patient and provider alike. The following are the top information security risks that need to be addressed in telehealth software:


1. Application Security

Without proper application security, cybercriminals can gain access to patient data through unsecured apps that are vulnerable to malware attacks. The goal of many cyber criminals is to infect an app with their own malicious code in order to steal personal information before it reaches the EHR.  One way to prevent the infiltration of malware is to use an app security framework.


2. Privacy

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are often targeted by cybercriminals looking for patient data, which can be used in a variety of ways including selling it on the black market, using it for identity theft schemes, or selling it to other cyber criminals.  One way to prevent the loss of patient data is to have a solid incident response plan in place that includes clear roles and responsibilities for employees, as well as regular risk assessments.


3. EMR/EHR Integration

Having the ability to transfer patient information between different platforms is invaluable in today’s healthcare industry, but it also means that providers must be extra vigilant about protecting patient information.


4. Cloud Computing

Cloud computing increases productivity and efficiency, but can also make it easier for hackers to achieve their goals of stealing patient information or disrupting IT networks.  Therefore, it is important for telehealth security professionals to ensure that proper measures are in place to prevent cyber attacks, whether it be through encryption or strong authentication methods.


Other General Risks

In addition to the four biggest risks we just highlighted, there are some other things that you must be aware of in order to ensure proper telehealth security.

Some of these include:

  • Insufficient training for employees on security protocols, which makes it easier for hackers to penetrate the telehealth system.  This is why it is important to have a clear incident response plan in place so that everyone knows what they are supposed to do if there is ever a data breach.
  • The use of default passwords and weak security measures.  Default passwords can be easily discovered online and shared with cybercriminals, while weak or ineffective security measures pave the way for hackers to gain access to patient data or disrupt IT networks.
  • The lack of endpoint protection such as antivirus software. Endpoint protection (e.g. antivirus software) can be used to both prevent and detect malware attacks.  The right type of endpoint protection will not only stop malware in its tracks, but it can also detect suspicious activity such as attempted system logins or changes to an EHR platform.

While there are many challenges associated with telehealth, security professionals have developed a variety of different solutions to reduce patient risk.  For example, they can use two-factor authentication or require passwords for mobile devices that are unique and changed frequently. It is also important for health care professionals to use anti-malware tools and firewalls.


How HIPAA Plays An Important Role in Healthcare Data Security

In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulates access to protected health information.  It is a set of security standards that includes requirements for data encryption, incident reporting, risk analysis, administrative safeguards, physical safeguards and technical safeguards.

Telehealth providers and their business associates must operate in compliance with HIPAA rules in order to ensure that they are adhering to all current federal laws.  It is important for telehealth security professionals to know the exact requirements for their company in order to build a comprehensive security plan that puts patient safety front and center.

Nowadays, cyber security risk management plays an increasingly vital role in healthcare.

While many hospitals are transitioning to become paperless clinics, the need for protecting electronic health records has never been greater. Furthermore, issues of privacy and security have increased exponentially in recent years due to hackers stealing sensitive patient information which then gets sold on the black market, putting patients at risk of fraud and identity theft. It is important for healthcare organizations to be HIPAA compliant, and by becoming aware and taking action to address the most common security risks in healthcare, your organization and patient data will be protected from even the strongest external threats.


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