Healthcare security: How can blockchain help?

January 23, 2020 | Devin Morrissey

This is part 2 of a blog on healthcare security. For more info, check out part 1. An independent guest blogger wrote this blog.

When it comes to data security, there is no more important place than the healthcare industry. When people go to the doctor, they provide all of their most sensitive information, from their health issues to their phone number, to a doctor they trust. When a medical office or database is hacked or damaged, and that information is released, it can be catastrophic to everyone involved.

Patient security is not only good practice, but it is also the law. Guidelines are in place to protect patient data, and it is up to health professionals and administrators to ensure that proper protections are made. Here are some best practices for now and advanced security platforms to look forward to in the future.

The rise of blockchain technology

While the possibility of losing business and patient data through a system breakdown or employee error is a serious concern, the potential for cybercrime is perhaps the bigger threat. As technology advances, so do the methods that hackers use to infiltrate our systems. The result is a combination of threats from computer viruses to phishing attacks, which trick employees into clicking a link or attachment that opens a door into their computer’s infrastructure. From there, a hacker can sell the personal info that they obtain on the black market or use it to extort money from the unsuspecting patient.

Since criminals have the ability to hack into health systems, an extra layer of security is needed: enter the blockchain. Instead of having patient information listed on an excel spreadsheet or an unsecured platform, this type of technology has information that is encrypted and entered into a chain that cannot be changed, deleted, or tampered with. All new information is verified against a ledger of previous events and cannot be modified unless it is deemed accurate.

In addition to creating better security, blockchain also creates additional transparency for those receiving care. Since a patient would be one of the owners of the blockchain, they are able to monitor when new data is added or changed within their records and have a say in the decision. Blockchain also prevents the leakage of data when emailing or shipping patient records to a new provider, as the new office would need only an access key to view and add their own content.

While this is a relatively new technology, it could prove to be a necessary one in the future.

Safeguarding medical data

Regardless of how data can be lost, it is essential that your medical office is proactive instead of reactive when it comes to a potential breakdown. The first step should always be to create an extensive risk analysis that not only assumes potential risks but also lists a plan of action if the unthinkable were to occur. Start by taking all potential scenarios, from a hacker to a terrorist attack, then list them in order of likeliness to occur. Finally, have steps in writing that each associate needs to carry out to ensure that the data is restored and the damage is minimal.

Part of every disaster recovery plan should be backup servers that store data as soon as it is acquired. These servers should be separate from your main computing system, so if your local office suffers a breach, your backup data will remain intact. Backups can be physical or based in the cloud, but in any case, they should be maintained regularly.

Medical centers should also be equipped with the best data breach insurance. When a breach occurs, the fallout can be devastating as there is not only a cost involved with restoring your company but also a trust that is broken with the customers. This is why you must act swiftly when an incident occurs, and insurance can provide experts to help repair your company and assist with accrued costs.

HIPAA compliance

While all businesses should have security as a top priority, health organizations need to be extra diligent, as they have their own laws that must be followed. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects patient rights while also working to protect their personal information. Paired with that is the HIPAA security rule, which requires that the proper procedures are in place to keep this information protected when it is stored and transferred. It is the responsibility of the health practice to follow these guidelines.

For instance, HIPAA requirements state that medical records must be kept for a minimum of six years from the date they were created. These records must be retained with backup systems and functioning firewalls. Once a practice decides to close down the records, they must be disposed of properly. For physical paperwork, old documents should be shredded so they cannot be reproduced. Once they are shredded, an outside vendor should take these records away so the shreds can also be disposed of properly.

Patient information should never be shared with anyone who isn’t authorized, so precautions must be made at all times. While working in the office, never use a customer’s full first and last name within close proximity of other patients, and ensure that your printer prints face down so passersby cannot sneak a peek at a name or social security number. When faxing information to other offices, use a cover sheet, so the content is not visible for all to see. Finally, all staff members should use complicated passwords that include letters, numbers, and special characters.

When it comes to the security of personal data in healthcare, due diligence is not only an ethical responsibility, but a legal one as well. The doctor-patient relationship is built on trust, and these proactive actions can honor that bond.

Devin Morrissey

About the Author: Devin Morrissey

Devin prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zigzag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more reliably on Twitter.

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