Data breaches cost medical industry millions of dollars

Data breaches are devastating to the medical industry. When cybercriminals steal confidential facility information, or patient records are lost or stolen, the integrity of the company takes a huge blow. It puts patients at risk for having private information leaked or their identities stolen and can even land medical units in hot water over HIPAA violations.

Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly common across all sectors, from business to government to education. While the costs associated with these thefts can be devastating for any group, new reports show that healthcare groups are being hit the hardest, total millions of dollars in losses.

The cost of stolen records in the healthcare field
The monetary losses that the healthcare field faces in the wake of a data breach are more than double the average of all other industries. According to the 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study released by IBM and the Ponemon Institute, it costs the healthcare industry about $355 per record lost or stolen, compared to the average of $158 for all sectors. Transportation, meanwhile, is only affected by $129, and the public sector $80.I

In all, the cost of cybersecurity breaches in the industry lead to millions of dollars in recovery costs. Most of those amounts are the result of lost business. A report by Accenture predicts that the healthcare sector could potentially lose more than $300 billion in patient revenue by 2019. 

Confidentiality and privacy are major concerns for the American people, especially when it comes to areas of finances or medical information. Having records illegally leaked from a trusted medical provider could have significant consequences for patients. As a result, that trust is then broken, and many move on to find new providers to work with. The Accenture report found that half of patients would leave their provider if it was hit by a security breach. Add in the risk of potential lawsuits if the medical unit can be found at fault in the breech and there's an obvious cause of concern for medical professionals.

The cost of HIPAA violations 
Along with the loss of patient business, the fines imposed on healthcare facilities that didn't follow proper security protocols are a significant contributor to the higher-than-average costs to the medical field. HIPAA laws require medical organizations to have strict security measures in place to protect patient data. Being careless with data or ignoring the security protocols could mean a facility is found liable in the wake of a security breach. 

According to Healthcare IT News, the largest fine ever imposed on a healthcare company for a security breach was $4.8 million charged to the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University in May 2014. This breach was the result of one physician's actions - the doctor in question tried to disconnect a person server that shared a network with an app that was developed for the organizations. Because there weren't the necessary safeguards in place, EHRs ended up visible on Google. 

HIPAA violations don't always have to be the result of malicious or careless actions. As the role of the internet continues to grow in medical fields, many people are simply unaware of the risks they face and the steps they must take to protect their information online. 

Boosting EHR security with better software
The use of EHR technology is too important to just forgo over the risk of data hacks. Using EHR software actually makes data safer overall, as it can't be misplaced like a simple folder could. It also tracks the changes made to the records, which providers have to log in to make. This significantly cuts down on the instances of falsifying information, multiple records that contain different, outdated information and limits mistakes. 

There are still security concerns with medical servers, however. Healthcare networks hold a lot of information that hackers find valuable, which makes them frequent targets of attempted cyberattacks. While cybersecurity measures are improving, hacker methods are evolving as well. 

The Ponemon study reported that investing in security solutions leads to cost reductions when compared to the impact of a data breech, or can at least lessen the costs associated with a breech if one should occur. Secure programs can make it harder for hackers to gain access to an entire network so fewer files are exposed. They also make it easier to detect when a breech has started so that it can be stopped before it goes any further. 

Taking the necessary steps to protect patient data starts with having the right EHR software in place. It's important that medical facilities turn to trusted, customized EHR programs that are built specifically to meet the industry security needs of the healthcare field. While generic, digital filing systems are plentiful, only specialized EHR software offers the protections that companies need to stay HIPAA compliant and protect their patients. 

Remove hacker entry points through staff education
Staff education is another important step in preventing medical data breaches. These costly information leaks are often the result of simple mistakes that staff make because they haven't been trained in security best practices. Orientation programs and periodic refresher courses should be mandatory for every staff member, even those who don't regularly access confidential information. All it takes is one person incorrectly using any device connected to a facility's network to provide a hacker access to the entire system. 

Education points should include not logging into professional servers from unsecured connections or personal devices. To keep control of the records strictly in the hands of the medical facilities, it should only be accessed from equipment that it has control of. 

Safe internet browsing habits are also crucial. One of the biggest doorways for cybercriminals to enter a network isn't through any kind of complex code-breaking program, but rather the casual misclick of a computer user. Opening emails from unknown senders or clicking links that appear on unsecured websites can give hackers a direct route into a facility's network. 

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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