How to meet healthcare data security challenges in a rapidly evolving high-tech global healthcare industry.

Placing an accurate financial value on the massive global healthcare industry is difficult. The fragmented sector has many service providers, medical manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies. Statistics depend on how a particular analyst defines the healthcare sector, not to mention the accuracy of their data analysis.

A more useful way to gain an overview of the importance of the healthcare sector is to consider spending in terms of gross domestic product or GDP. UK government statistics show that in 2020, Britain spent 12% of its GDP on healthcare, amounting to £3,840 per person. In the same time period, the US is estimated to have spent 17.7% of its GDP on healthcare, with per capita spending over $11,000. The OECD median is calculated at 8.8% of GDP.

Statistics were skewed during the COVID-19 pandemic due to GDP contractions and changes to healthcare spending patterns. Still, they give valuable insight into the astronomical sums of money spent on healthcare across the developed world and emerging economies.

The global healthcare market is huge, potentially catering to a human population that reached 8 billion in November 2022 and is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050.

What Constitutes a HealthCare Business?

A healthcare business could be a specialist workshop that manufactures prosthetic limbs, or an individual who sells vitamins on eBay. The possibilities are endless, but for the purpose of exploring data security issues in healthcare, we can define healthcare businesses as any entity that uses, stores or processes confidential medical data belonging to patients, and for whom data security in the context of healthcare is a legal requirement.

These entities can be large hospitals, small mall clinics, dental surgeries, STD clinics, health insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies conducting clinical trials, and other researchers. What these diverse organizations have in common is a need to understand the importance of data security in healthcare as well as a professional understanding of how to secure healthcare data. In 2022, utilizing effective data security software is the surest way to achieve these requirements.

The Importance of Data Security in Healthcare

The global healthcare sector is being rapidly transformed by the development of new disruptive technologies, particularly in the field of big data and AI. An aging population in the Western world, increased survivability of previously fatal conditions, and increasing demands for sophisticated healthcare in emerging economies are powerful driving forces in the evolution of healthcare services. Effective data security in healthcare is now a pressing concern for medical practitioners and healthcare providers.

The healthcare sector is comparable to the financial sector in that it operates on a foundation of trust. Patients are essentially obliged to trust physicians, health care providers and medical insurance companies with their most intimate and sensitive personal data. The traditional bond of doctor-patient confidentiality is being stretched considerably by advances in healthcare, and public awareness of healthcare data security challenges.

Data Security for Healthcare by Healthcare Professionals

Advances in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, and a new focus on preventive medicine and holistic healthcare have coincided with rapid advances in data sharing and data management technologies. Confidential patient medical records were previously compiled as written notes and physically transferred between medical professionals as required. The opportunities for data breaches, and the incentives for breaching data, were limited.

In the 2020s, sensitive personal medical data that was previously handwritten in patient files and stored in locked filing cabinets is now computerized, stored on cloud, and is much more widely disseminated. Personal medical data is now a high value asset that is prized by researchers, pharmaceutical companies, marketers and even government agencies.

A range of doctors, nurse practitioners, clinics, administrators – and even patients themselves – may have varying degrees of access to confidential medical data. In the case of the EU, medical records may soon be shared across national borders. All of these individuals and organizations require up to date training in how to secure healthcare data. Worryingly, healthcare data security standards still depend to an unacceptable degree on individual integrity, competence and conscientiousness.

Healthcare data security challenges aren’t limited to protecting patient privacy from corporate interest. Hackers and cybercriminals continually target confidential medical data, either for its resale value, or for straightforward extortion attempts. Black hat hacking is one of the biggest data security issues in healthcare. The future of healthcare depends on healthcare data security.

Current Regulation of Data Security in Healthcare

The global healthcare industry is huge, fragmented and is subject to diverse jurisdictions and official regulatory bodies, as well as national and state laws. In the US, the foundation of healthcare data security standards is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The law applies to the spectrum of sensitive medical data holders and end-users and mandates them to protect patient privacy.

In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) recognizes personal medical data as a distinct data category that requires special protection. The GDPR functions in a similar way to HIPAA for data security for healthcare. The rules are part of a wider move towards data security within the EU.

In the UK, the Data Protection Act (DPA) and the Common Law Duty of Confidentiality (CLDC) apply to healthcare data security standards. Great Britain was an early pioneer of legally mandated doctor-patient confidentiality and is adapting to the digital age. The UK’s information commissioner enforces UK data security laws and can impose penalties of up to £17 million or 4% of global turnover (for the most serious data breaches).

Penalties for medical data breaches are not limited to fines imposed by regulators. Australia’s biggest medical insurer Medibank suffered a data breach in October 2022. The medical data of an estimated 9.7 million Australian citizens was stolen and lawyers are now preparing for class action lawsuits. When reputation damage and lost business is added to the equation, the long term financial consequences of non-remediated vulnerabilities and data security issues in healthcare can be crippling for companies and service providers.

Zero Trust in Healthcare Organizations

Zero trust strategies are highly recommended for all organizations that use cloud storage or who have extensive and complex IT ecosystems. The importance of data security in healthcare cannot be understated, but the sector also has its own unique requirements. Data security for healthcare is a complex cybersecurity challenge that requires tailored solutions. Zero trust in healthcare organizations is a foundation for cyber security, not a panacea for cyberthreats.

A successful Zero trust paradigm in healthcare organizations will protect interconnected networks and devices, while securing sensitive data. The problem is that a genuine zero trust solution is difficult to implement, and requires constant adjustment and management. Securing devices, networks, workloads, and data takes time and requires a variety of tools and solutions. Simply identifying sensitive data (especially dormant data) across a diverse and dispersed IT ecosystem is a challenge in itself.

Poorly thought out, or badly implemented zero trust solutions in healthcare organizations can negatively impact workflows and employee morale. The last thing a busy ER room needs is an inflexible IT system that delays or prohibits access to vital patient records. Password fatigue is genuine and nobody wants a scenario where frustrated healthcare professionals or administrators try to bypass inconvenient security systems.

How to Secure Healthcare Data with Actifile Encryption

Actifile is a valuable tool for healthcare IT managers. It’s plug and play software that carries out an automated scan of all your networks, channels, shadow cloud and remote devices and detects sensitive data – including dormant data. Once the full scan is completed, the data is mapped on your Actifile dashboard. It’s then quantified in US dollars, or other major currencies, displaying the financial consequences of any future data breach.

Once the data is mapped and quantified, you’re in a position to make an informed choice about automated data encryption. Actifile provides flexible one-click data encryption, with options for immediate and delayed encryption and encryption by channel. The tailored approach extends to automated decryption, giving you full control, with no disruption to workflows.

Flexibility aside, there are several key advantages to Actifile’s groundbreaking encryption software when you need to provide data security for healthcare.

  • Simplicity: Any IT manager can use the software effectively without specialist training.
  • Speed: Actifile can usually scan, quantify and encrypt your entire healthcare IT ecosystem within less than 72 hours of initiation. It then works silently in the background providing 24/7 protection.
  • Security: Your sensitive medical data is invisibly encrypted. It can be hacked, stolen by employees, sent to unauthorized recipients, or stored on a lost hard drive – but it will be unreadable. Data leakage no longer means data loss.

If you want to learn more about how to secure healthcare data with Actifle encryption, contact us to schedule a free automated scan. You’ll know within a short time exactly how much of your data is vulnerable, and how to remediate it!

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