An increasing reliance on technology has made the healthcare industry faster, smarter and more convenient than ever before. As telehealth services advance, patients no longer need to visit their primary care and specialty providers for check-ups. They can have a web chat with their doctor, send records and vital signs and much more—all from the comfort of their home.
Just as with every promising development, however, there is potential for new risks. Telehealth operations and digital health records can compromise safety and security for convenience. Healthcare facilities have become a prime target for cybercriminals for whom anything on a digital platform is fair game.
Cybercrime is scary enough, but it’s even more detrimental when it comes to healthcare. Health data have far fewer protections than financial information. If a credit card gets stolen, insurance can cover whatever money is lost. That’s not the case with health data.
Putting Patients At Risk
Aside from the actual health and medical information, patients’ health records are rich with personal information—including, but not limited to, their social security number, their addresses, familial information, where they work and much more—which could have terrible implications in the case of a breach.
Medical identity theft is among the worst possible outcomes a person might endure. Hackers can steal a patient’s insurance information for others to use their medical care. It’s an elusive crime but one that costs, on average, over $22,300 per victim. The victim may pay much more than a monetary price, however. They may get deprived of their life, disability, or long-term care insurance if someone ineligible for their coverage uses their medical care. That false negative could cost a medical fraud victim their life if they’re unable to get care when they need it most.
For this reason, cybersecurity is among the top issues facilities need to address. It’s been over a decade since health records started transitioning to digital platforms, but the last two years have seen the worst breaches yet. This trend indicates that hacker attacks on healthcare facilities are only getting more frequent.
One of the worst breaches in history occurred when Molina Healthcare, an ACA and Medicaid insurance giant, had to take its patient portal offline in May 2017. A glitch in the provider’s security system left approximately 4.8 million patients’ medical claims data vulnerable to theft. Anyone could access the claims without authorization. Worse yet, no one knows how long the glitch lasted, how it occurred or its impact.
At this rate, not a single person in the U.S. will be spared of medical identity theft by 2024. Providing quality medical care is no longer enough. The information healthcare facilities store is the most valuable intel hackers can get their hands on. Plus, the breaches themselves cost the healthcare industry over $6 billion annually. In spite of the high stakes, facilities still struggle to fortify their IT systems against breaches. In fact, the overwhelming majority (90%) of hospitals experienced a breach in the last two years.
The Internet of Things and Implications for the Future
Internal computer systems are only one area of health tech that needs protection. Any medical device that stores information wirelessly, like heart defibrillators and insulin pumps, is susceptible to tampering. Even former vice president Dick Cheney was weary of assassination attempts via his heart implant.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to dominate our technology, the need for cybersecurity will only climb. Everything is becoming more entangled. Soon, we’ll be able to share data on our medical devices to our laptops, phones, smart fridges and anything else that can use cloud storage. The more connected we are to our devices, the more we have to lose in the event of a cyber threat.
With these developments, it’s more important now than ever for every healthcare facility to address this issue—otherwise they remain prime targets for hackers. No one is exempt from the risks of these attacks.
With so much to lose, facilities need to act fast to better protect their patients.
Keep your eyes peeled for part two of this cybersecurity post where we'll explore viable solutions to fortify healthcare facilities' defenses. Until then, where do you stand on the issue? Are hackers a danger to healthcare? If you think yes, spread the word below!