Maintaining Privacy & Patient Safety Amid AI & Telehealth Innovations

Updated on April 16, 2024
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The world is constantly evolving – as time goes on, the inventions and innovations that permeate our world become commonplace, transforming how we work, live, and play. 

Consider, for example, the humble mass-produced paperback you might pick up in your local Barnes and Noble. Technologies and innovations, such as in recent decades, modern computing, and the Internet, have transformed how we consume media.

These transformations have had a substantial impact on all manner of industries – and from the production of medicines to the hospital ward, the healthcare sector has often been an industry impacted significantly by innovation.

Nursing students no longer need to attend a physical college to complete a qualification – in fact, completing qualifications such as online ABSN programs can even be done from almost anywhere.

In a world where technology is transforming the way that medical professionals learn and work, how can we best protect critical patient data? Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that even the most experienced of specialists can take, to help protect data from falling into the wrong hands.

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Awareness of Emerging Threats

In the 2004 movie, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, dodgeball coach Patches O’Houlihan attempts to teach a group of amateur dodgeball players to art of dodgeball. In a memorable training scene, Patches proceeds to throw wrenches at the players, to motivate them to practice, famously stating that ‘If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball’.

Cybersecurity threats are a little like Patches’ wrenches – they are present and heavy, and you can often see them coming right for your face. Fortunately, hospital administrators don’t have to face wrenches to be aware of threats – they simply need to be aware of common cyber threats, such as:

  • Data breaches, such as those that occur as a result of weak or lax default security protocols, or a lack of understanding about privacy regulations such as HIPAA
  • Third-party vulnerabilities, such as those that exist as a result of simple hacking attempts.
  • Poor training standards, such as putting secure passwords on shared whiteboards, leaving secure data unprotected, or using unapproved AI systems to process sensitive data

Being aware of the risks can go a long way towards setting standards to help mitigate cyber threats.

Backup Critical Data

Awareness mustn’t be the only strategy in your toolkit – well-educated and informed healthcare specialists will always have a plan to back up critical data. This may seem a little redundant in a world where patients are rapidly rotating in and out of a hospital environment. 

However, in a world where hospital and insurer systems seem to be under attack every other month, having a plan for recovering critical systems is often essential to a quick and problem-free recovery.

Consider, for example, a healthcare provider that generates regular backups and sends them securely offsite. In the case that systems onsite are compromised, an IT administrator can facilitate the re-imaging and recovery of lost data. This can go a long way to providing some level of redundancy to hospital systems that are often seldom seen, although sorely needed.

Control Access and Authentication

Awareness and backups are both essential parts of a good cyber-security strategy and the third pillar, access, goes a long way toward addressing some of the threats that are present in many hospital systems.

Access control systems, such as swipe cards, are often a function commonplace in modern clinical environments. They’re a handy way to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to medications, for example.

It’s important to understand that the simple locking and unlocking of doors is an understatement of the full potency of access control systems. Functionally, they can act not only as an access and authentication system, but they can also help to provide critical audit and operational reports.

These can be particularly helpful in the case of a cyberattack or compromise – audit reports can greatly assist hospital administrators in identifying where and when systems began to fail, and they can also provide a level of encryption and security.

They can also help prevent the wrong data from falling into the wrong hands – if unauthorized staff members are unable to access sensitive personal data, for example, they may find that they are unable to misuse said data in public-facing AI models.

Develop an Incident Response Plan

All medical facilities must be aware of one crucial element about cyber-attacks – no matter how prepared you are, it’s no longer a question of whether you will be compromised. In today’s threat-heavy environment, it’s clear that no hospital is safe from the challenges of cyber threats – the question becomes – not if, but when?

A simple, yet effective practice that all medical facilities should have, is an incident response plan in the case that digital systems go offline. Are medical staff able to work an extended period with pen and paper, for example – and can crucial systems such as life support machines be used independently of their networking capabilities?

Regularly reviewing an incident response plan to consider emerging threats is also a great way to keep staff informed. This shared awareness can be vital in protecting patient data more broadly – after all, if your medical staff are aware of the risks, they’re more likely to consider how they use data before taking hold of it.

Data can be a challenging area for hospital staff. By working together with all levels of hospital professionals, as well as administrators and support staff, organizations can go a long way toward protecting their data from bad actors and compromising positions.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.