Technological development is increasing at an exponential rate and shows no signs of slowing down. From the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence to the explosion in work-from-home and online communications since the onset of the pandemic, interconnected technology has crept even further into our lives than ever before.
But the convenience of that interconnectivity brings new compliance and liability risks with it. Technology changes fast, but laws are far slower to change, and the rapid adoption of these new technologies leaves healthcare providers vulnerable.
Compliance in Healthcare Security
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) established federal requirements that all handlers and transmitters of private health information (PHI) and health records must follow in order to maintain the security and privacy of their patients.
While it is better to err on the side of caution, if you are unsure if you are required to maintain HIPAA compliance, this HIPAA Compliance Checklist can help determine whether you and your organization are bound by this important legislation.
HIPAA organizes violations into tiers based on severity, with higher minimum fines for more significant incidents. It is easy to argue that upgrading and evolving your technology without accordingly enhancing cybersecurity and patching vulnerabilities alongside it represents a failure to exercise the reasonable diligence required by HIPAA.
Negligence Fines for HIPAA
This negligence levies a minimum fine of $1,000 per violation in this tier (Tier 2) to the standard maximum of $50,000.
In short, if you are improving your technology, you have a duty to your patients and the law to also enhance your security. In order to remain competitive and best serve your patients in the digital age, it is almost certain that your technology will be improving continually.
IoT Security Vulnerability
The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has created a massively interconnected network of patient monitoring and data recording devices linked to central networks accessible by providers.
This remote monitoring allows doctors to keep tabs on their patients’ health from the office, rather than relying upon infrequent visits, and to predict health crises before they come to pass.
Glucose and heartrate monitors provide real-time updates. Asthma inhalers collect data on the frequency of occurrences and predict future ones.
Medical Device Security
Even more seriously, lifesaving medical devices connect to this new digital ecosystem: pacemakers, auto-defibrillators, insulin pumps, and more. Risk management, rather than crisis mitigation, is becoming the norm.
Real-time appointments have also settled the digital frontier: telehealth appointments became a norm for thousands of providers and patients after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plethora of data from these interconnected devices demands an equally expansive set of security measures to ward off cyberthreats. Data gathered through remote monitoring is considered protected health information (PHI) just like any records gathered during an office visit and is subject to the same stringent regulations.
With all of the new information available, data breaches can be devastating. A single successful phishing attempt or infiltration grants hackers access to gigabytes of PHI.
The remote devices that record data are weak links compared to the longstanding computer networks within health providers’ officers, which were once far more isolated, and better guarded against cyberthreats.
New interconnectivity renders these networks just as vulnerable: when a breach occurs, criminals move through the network from the compromised device and into the computers at the core of the system.
It is difficult to develop cybersecurity at the same pace as new remote monitoring technologies, so it’s easy to be caught up in the new potential for patient care without considering the consequences of a cyberattack or the lethal effects that malware can have on lifesaving devices.
Ransomware Attacks on Healthcare Systems
“Ransomware” is a specific variety of malware that encrypts files and programs on a system to lock them down and render them unusable, often accompanied by specific demands placed on the keepers of that data. Machines afflicted with ransomware are often rendered unusable until the attack is resolved.
The first ransomware attack on a healthcare system occurred as recently as 2017, but as the number of IoT devices grows, so do the holes in data protection systems.
This exposure can create severe delays as vital equipment goes down, which overstresses and delays the already-overwhelmed healthcare system. The pandemic’s delays in manufacturing and maintenance supply chains amplify the slowdown even more. A cyberattack against a vulnerable system could cripple it completely.
The Impact of the Pandemic
The pandemic slowdowns and the expansion of vulnerable IoT devices also coincide with an aging population, for whom continuous monitoring will supplement or even replace a percentage of regular visits to accommodate both them and the busy healthcare providers who serve them.
In the event of a ransomware attack, an IoT-reliant provider can grind to a halt. Viruses spread from system to system — a single breach in a vulnerable medical device can cripple an entire network and render layers of data protection moot.
The small IT teams employed by most small businesses should not be called upon to handle a crisis of such legal and financial importance and may indeed be unable to handle the disaster at all. Cybercriminals grow more dangerous every year, and HIPAA compliance requires that you keep pace.
However, the cost of larger in-house teams with greater expertise combined with the ever-growing incidence of attacks accelerates the ever-rising costs of healthcare.
Securing Data Access
Healthcare organizations can save on expenses and keep patient costs low by calling on a third party to provide expert cybersecurity. An overloaded IT department can’t possibly keep pace with dedicated hackers capable of exploiting the connectivity the department strives to build.
Fortunately, an equally-dedicated security service dedicates as much time — or more — to your patients’ data protection.
Personal data stored on the cloud poses an enormous cyber risk, so regular and real-time security procedures are necessary in order to remain compliant. Law and duty of care to patients’ PHI demands it, and the financial and reputational damage can cripple an SMB unable to weather such a storm.
Regularly updated security measures are necessary to protect patients’ data. They go far beyond password updates — many healthcare technologies use default passwords or no passwords at all.
No IT department can review every piece of healthcare technology used in an office or hospital and establish safeguards, but a cybersecurity solutions provider can ensure that every aspect of medical device security is understood and up-to-date.
Remote Monitoring and Management
Remote monitoring is another feature beyond the scope of many IT departments. Breaches are inevitable, but immediate detection and automatic containment with the help of powerful artificial intelligence minimizes the damage.
By catching infiltrators early, you and your chosen security solutions provider ensure you can continue your critical work with minimal downtime.
Unencrypted data. Regular security patches. Two-factor authentication to ensure access. The list of cybersecurity options and necessities grows every day, and emerging blockchain technologies offer promising methods of unique authentication that can take years or decades to replicate.
The growing interconnectivity of the healthcare industry requires an equally interconnected set of protections. As cyberattacks evolve, so must your healthcare cybersecurity.