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Encoding patient data privacy in the era of digitisation

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Securing patient information and maintaining strict levels of patient confidentiality is difficult since web-based systems are widely used to provide easy and ubiquitous access to authorised users. Santosh Matam, Security Manager, F5 presents three ways to ensure secure and confidential access to healthcare infrastructure and data

Digitisation of the healthcare industry has helped healthcare providers access critical infrastructure that puts patient needs at the forefront. While digital transformation has helped the healthcare sector, it has also made the sector a prime target for cyber-attacks. Globally, the healthcare industry has faced a teeming rain of cyber attacks, whereas several parts in Asia pacific region were also not spared in the massive wave of ransomware attacks happened recently. The fallout of the WannaCry attack hit nearly all the computers in Dharmais Hospital and Harapan Kita Hospital in Jakarta, where critical IT systems with patient records and billing were locked up.  India too has experienced its fair share of data breaches in the health sector, the most prominent being the Maharashtra-based diagnostic lab breach, with records of over 35,000 patients compromised.

As per the announcement made by honourable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on making national health ID for every Indian as the first step towards Universal Health Coverage, is expected to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of health services in the country. While this is a positive step towards making healthcare accessible to all, it also comes with the responsibility of securing data and privacy of users as well as the digital solutions of healthcare providers. Today, a quintessential hospital utilises hundreds of connected devices including implantable, wearables, monitors, workflow, imaging, and patient data systems. However, while these touchpoints offer several advantages for better patient care, many medical IoT devices lack robust security and could serve as an entry point to the hospital’s network.

Securing patient information and maintaining strict levels of patient confidentiality is difficult since web-based systems are widely used to provide easy and ubiquitous access to authorised users. Here are three ways to ensure secure and confidential access to healthcare infrastructure and data.

Deploying security management tools to protect apps and sensitive data

As technology gets more complex so is the nature of cyberattacks – from the simple viruses of yesterday to multifaceted malware that exposes applications, systems, and networks on multiple levels for information gain or destructive attacks. IT teams can consider deploying a key application security manager that combines the power of both local traffic manager (LTM) and  Access Policy Manager (ACP) that will help protect applications from a range of vulnerabilities, including web scraping, SQL injection, payload attacks, and denial of service attacks.

Encrypting patient data

The need for encryption has become more popular with the rapid rise in the number of practices using mobile devices and transmitting patient healthcare information. In fact, according to a recent survey, the adoption of encryption strategies is increasing in all sectors, with protecting sensitive information as the primary driver for adoption, according to 54 per cent of respondents. However, the global adoption rate for encryption is just 45 per cent. No institution is immune to the risk of data security breaches but enforcing data encryption is a major shield that will protect confidential patient information and your organisation’s stature.

Educating healthcare staff

The human factor is still one of the biggest risks to security across businesses including the healthcare industry. Basic human error or negligence can result in catastrophic and expensive consequences for healthcare organisations. The need to put a security awareness training programme for their employees with the requisite knowledge is necessary when handling patient data.

Every crisis poses an opportunity to learn, improve, and innovate. However, speed and deliberation are of utmost importance. For IT teams, having in place a smart security solution reduces the need for negotiating with day-to-day challenges requiring continuous assessment of patient’s data, security, and storage. Hospitals must look at key internal processes from new employee roll-out and remote access solutions in use, to new business opportunities and customer experience solutions that offer new apps and services to ascertain their cybersecurity posture. The best data security tools work in the background—offering full visibility while providing automated, non-disruptive protection of assets and seamless authentication to network users.

Digital healthcare is indeed the way forward as healthcare institutions push forward with their digital transformation journey. By leveraging on the advancements in technology, not only does it solve current operational efficiency challenges, but the opportunities also offered by healthcare data are unlimited. However, this immense amount of sensitive and valuable data presents significant privacy and security issues for healthcare organisations. With thoughtfully designed systems and intricate regulations in place to safeguard India’s digitised future, prioritising data privacy should be a non-negotiable for healthcare organisations too.

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