How Secure is Your Medical Information?
The evolution of electronic health records (also called EHRs or electronic medical records) was driven with good intention, as they allow for a more streamlined transfer and recall of medical information, and also allow medical staff to quickly consult information from around the globe to help treat a given patient. However, in recent years, health data has become a bigger target for hackers, accounting for more than 1/3rd of the cyber attacks that occurred in 2020.
The COVID pandemic served as another catalyst for eHealth evolution, as filled hospitals and the virus itself forced healthcare teams to move consultations and other services that didn’t require face-to-face contact to be conducted via teleconference. As many doctors were also at home for these consultations, EHRs needed to be accessed remotely more often, which certainly led to the increase in breaches in health data.
On the positive side, security has also taken many steps forward to combat the uptick in clandestine activities online. Here is a closer look at how electronic medical information is used and kept secure.
What is an EHR?
Created to make access to records instant, especially for emergencies, EHRs contain most of the same things a medical record you would find at a hospital would contain, they just are stored on a server (or on the cloud). Medical staff can use this information to access history, former diagnoses, test results, and many other things (including vaccination records). They also allow for quick sharing of information outside of a given hospital system, which previously took a lot of time and effort, and was easily compromised.
With evolutions in artificial intelligence, EHRs can also be used as sources for mass collection of information relative to a given ailment, allowing for predictive analytics and advancements in treatment. However, this also brings with it security questions, and not all are related to hackers.
In addition to being personal and people wanting to keep things private for their own reasons, it is also illegal for hospitals to share health information, and stiff penalties are handed down if hospitals allow for information to be accessed wrongfully, whether intentionally shared or not (via crime). All of the laws laid out in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 pertain to digital information as well, and additional rules related to EHRs were added, which include a minimum requirement for protecting it with encryption and passwords, as well as making it mandatory to inform the media if any breaches that affect more than 500 individuals occur. On the positive side of this is the fact that there is plenty of funding for cybersecurity in the health industry.
How Is It Protected?
There are three major ways that health information is protected, and they are audit trails, password protection, and data encryption, and when all three are utilized to the maximum potential, the information is very difficult to access.
- Audit Trails – Required by HIPAA, audit trails are computerized and automated reports that keep track of any and every action taken on a given patient’s electronic health record. This includes the who as well as the where pertaining to the location of the access request.
- Password Protection – Not all that dissimilar from password protections on your personal devices, EHRs utilize multiple layers of password protection and each requires security questions for anyone to access outside of the medical staff (which should only be you or someone lawfully in charge of your records).
- Data Encryption – In addition to making it more difficult to access, data encryption also can be used to add layers to the information, making certain parts more difficult to access, and acting as a failsafe utilizing artificial intelligence to recognize abnormal locales and timing for record access.
So is it Safe?
Ultimately, there is always a chance your information can be breached, but advancements in protection are outpacing those in hacking practices, and EHRs are very secure. Penalties given to those who violate HIPAA violations are extremely strict, and this in and of itself acts as a great motivator to keep your information safe from hackers.