Information Security Is Vital for Medical Practices: Here’s Why

We live in a world that’s full of digital security threats of all kinds. To give just one example, data breaches can be extremely dangerous for businesses and can sometimes even cause an existential threat for a company. Yet news of data breaches hits so frequently that even those in the information security industry can start to get numb to them.

Data breaches and other information security threats are a concern for all businesses, of course. But medical practices have additional concerns to worry about, such as HIPAA violations and similar state laws.

Below, we’ll outline some of the reasons that information security is vital for medical practices, starting with the topic of data breaches.

Data Breaches

In 2019 (the latest year for which complete data is available, there were over 1500 data breaches in the USA alone, with over 164 million digital records exposed. That’s roughly one record for every other person living in the USA!

There are numerous dangers associated with data breaches. Some are applicable to all businesses, and some are unique to medical practices.

General Dangers

One of the greatest dangers of experiencing a data breach is the loss of customers’ trust.  On some level, customers (or, in medical terms, patients) rely on businesses and practices to be good custodians of their information. When a business is breached, the business often takes a credibility hit. This is especially true when the breach was due to negligence or incompetence.

Data breaches also create liabilities and vulnerabilities for those whose data was compromised. Even if you don’t lose your customers’ or patients’ trust, you could still tarnish your image. Your patients would be right to associate you with all the work and difficulty created by the breach, after all. 

Lastly, data breaches can be financially costly. There are costs associated with securing whatever vulnerabilities were exploited. Determining the scope of the breach can be time- and information-intensive (and thus expensive). Big enough breaches may even involve settlement costs, though this tends to be less likely with a small business than with a large one.

Specific Threats for Medical Practices

Medical practices face some threats specific to the medical field in addition to the general threats that all businesses face.

HIPAA Violations: Chief among them is the danger of HIPAA violations. Just about any data breach will cause all the normal concerns discussed above. But in a medical setting, a data breach will also typically cause some form of HIPAA violation if an unauthorized party gains access to PII.

There are additional costs for HIPAA violations, too, ranging from $100 to $50,000 for each violation, with a maximum of $1.5 million.

Limited Staffing Capabilities: One industry organization notes that the risk of data breaches tends to be higher for small to medium medical practices because of their IT limitations. While large hospital systems sometimes have a sufficient and dedicated IT staff, a small independent practice may have a single or even part-time IT staffer.

It’s much harder to keep all physical machines and web-based interfaces up to date and secure in this kind of situation, leaving attackers more avenues to exploit vulnerabilities and steal data.

High Rate of Movement: Another risk that’s more prominent in medical practices than many businesses is what we’re calling high rate of movement, for lack of a better term. Many medical offices are fast-paced, with staff and visitors alike moving frequently through the space. Look around your environment and ask yourself: how hard would it really be for someone to gain physical access to a computer without getting noticed.

Then ask the scary follow-up question: how often do you see an unlocked workstation, where a nurse or physician steps away but forgets to sign out or lock down the machine? All it takes is combining these two scenarios, and someone who knows what they’re doing could begin a system breach.

These days, most medical practices have a computer in the exam room with the patient, too. We’ve been to general practices where the computer stays in the room between the nurse’s initial questions and the physician’s arrival. Without proper security measures (and especially if the system is left unlocked), this is a recipe for disaster.

These are just a few of the unique risks associated with medical practice data breaches. We wish that were the end of the bad news, but it isn’t. There are other categories of risks to consider besides data breaches.

Medical Device Vulnerabilities

Today’s medical practices are high-tech places full of connected medical devices. These modern devices drastically improve the quality of care, but they have a dark side. Keeping a plethora of devices, each with its own firmware or software, patched and up to date can be a logistical nightmare. Yet unpatched devices can be an easy target for bad actors looking for a way in.

Just keeping track of all the devices on your network can be the biggest headache of all. If you lose track of some of the devices, you won’t be making sure they get all the latest patches.
Of course, partnering with a managed service provider that understands your medical office’s unique needs is a great way to shore up these vulnerabilities. The right MSP can even help inventory all your equipment to make sure nothing goes under the radar.

Employee Vulnerabilities

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your greatest vulnerability may be your greatest asset: your staff. In real life, hacking rarely looks like it does in the movies. Most of it is much more pedestrian. Your employees can fall prey to any number of attacks, including these:
You can never completely secure the human element, but you can take smart steps to lower your risk. These include security awareness training to help your team recognize scams and phishing tactics.

Ransomware Attacks

A ransomware attack is a cyberattack where bad actors gain control of a system or network and then lock the rightful users out, demanding they pay a ransom to regain access to the compromised system. These attacks generate a lot of fear. The prospect of permanently losing access to the data on the compromised device or system is often terrifying.

These attacks tend to occur through methods similar to the other topics here: attackers break into a vulnerable system or simply socially engineer their way in. Shoring up those avenues of attack will help lessen your risk of a ransomware attack, too.

Southeastern Technical Understands Medical Information Security

At Southeastern Technical Consulting, we help numerous clients in the medical space keep their information and systems secure. We understand the unique needs and concerns in this industry and are well equipped to take care of your IT and IT security needs. Curious how we can help? Reach out today for a free consultation.

About Southeastern Technical

We help leaders discover how they can have stable, reliable information technology (IT), so their organizations can experience fewer IT problems and security threats.

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