Telemedicine and Cybersecurity: Keeping Health Data Safe

August 31st, 2019 - By Mandy Chilson

The telemedicine industry continues to grow and there are no signs that it is slowing down. As such, the industry’s projected revenue of $3.5 billion by 2022 remains right on track. Thus, indicating that every major healthcare network will eventually offer some type of telehealth service to its patients. While telemedicine offers numerous benefits, it is vulnerable to cyber threats like any other information technology (IT) services. Providers can, however, use a variety of cybersecurity techniques and best practices to protect their privacy and keep their patients’ data secure.

Cybersecurity and Telemedicine: Preventing Cyber-Attacks

An IT breach can make patients uncomfortable about sharing personal information; thus, negatively affecting the provider’s reputation and bottom line. To prevent hackers from damaging data or steal and hold it for ransom, providers must focus on implementing cybersecurity policies. These policies need to center around protecting patient information, which, in turn, creates trust in the provider and his practice. IT teams must create an infrastructure that allows for secure communications between telemedicine providers and their patients. This secure infrastructure must allow remote communication without reducing the amount of security that sensitive data receive.

What Hackers Do with the Data They Collect

Once hackers successfully steal sensitive data, they may use this data to blackmail a patient or a provider. Hackers know how to manipulate data. The success of the hacker undermines the reputation and competency of the health care provider and the clinic.

Potential Telemedicine Security Risks

When not implemented carefully, a telemedicine rollout can put patient data at risk. To perform a telehealth consultation, health care provider uses various applications, devices and software programs to connect with the patient. The devices health care provider uses for consults may belong to another medical professional or facility. Since the device might not belong to the provider, security assurances are difficult to make. Lags in security updates, insecure connections and a lack of visibility into public networks can lead to health system vulnerability. Once vulnerable, cybercriminals can infiltrate the core enterprise network.

HIPAA’s Telemedicine Privacy Rule Guidelines

 HIPAA’s telemedicine Privacy Rule guidelines has been established for medical professional providing remote telehealth services to patients. It provide a roadmap to medical professionals for a safe, secure teleconsultation.

HIPAA’s acceptance of communicating electronically protected health information (ePHI) at distance. Many medical professionals believe they are following HIPAA guidelines when ePHI at distance communication is solely between the patient and the physician. Ensuring direct, secure communication between the patient and the physician is vital. However, it is extremely important that the channel on which the communication is being transmitted is also secure. Especially if the healthcare organization and medical professional aim to comply with HIPAA’s telemedicine guidelines.

HIPAA guidelines are as follows:

  • Authorized users are the only individuals who should be able to access ePHI – This is a reasonable safeguard to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing ePHI.
  • Preventing malicious or accidental breaches requires the implementation of a system to monitor ePHI communications – Mechanisms that can monitor and remotely delete ePHI data much be installed.
  • Protecting the integrity of ePHI requires implementing a system of secure communication – Insecure channels of communication include, Skype, email and SMS: According to HIPAA, none of these are acceptable for communicating ePHI at distance.

Cybersecurity Tools for Telemedicine Providers

Various connected devices within the telehealth network need to have tools that offer visibility. The information should include data use, movement and the device’s level of security. Implementing tools such as these ensure isolation of any at-risk devices. Quick isolation of the compromised device minimizes the cyber criminal’s ability to move laterally across the network. Using a variety of tools and strategies makes achieving this level of visibility possible. When telemedicine providers purchase tools from third-party vendors, it is essential that they measure the level of risk and adjust security policies accordingly. Moreover, providers must define their expectations and level of security they desire clearly to the vendor.

Application Security — Several applications are necessary to connect patients and physicians during a telemedicine consultation. These applications can put providers at risk because IT teams are unable to control the level of security they provide. Also, if remote users update their applications directly after the patch release, they may be more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Web application firewalls protect health networks from some of the most common application vulnerabilities. These application vulnerabilities include zero-day threats, the Open Web Application Security Project’s (OWASP) top ten and malicious bots.

Network Access Control (NAC) — NACs make it possible for security to view each IoT device connected to and operating within the health network. This level of transparency is ideal for telemedicine providers conducting consultations over mobile devices (i.e., tablets, smartphones, portable medical devices, etc.). A NAC solution can identify each device the moment it connects to the health network. Following connectivity, security can track and monitor the device. Security can deliver automated responses to anyone who exhibits unusual, threatening behavior. Furthermore, NACs can use micro-segmentation techniques to limit device access. By using micro-segmentation techniques, personnel can only access and remove the data that is necessary to complete their functions.

Integrated Management and Analytics — A large number of healthcare employees bringing their own devices to work is on the rise. In addition, patients and guests use the healthcare network. These additional users increase the activity level on the network. To keep track of these users, a centralized view of the activity and security alerts must be available. This centralized view is necessary even when the IT team implements a set of separate, isolated security tools.

Other Ways to Heighten Cybersecurity

Implementing cybersecurity tools is the first step in securing patient data and the second step is reviewing security programs. Telemedicine providers need to review their third-party provider contracts and discuss the strategies for responding to any intelligence threat that may arise. In addition, ask how to identify malicious emails and suspicious links so as to avoid cybersecurity threats. Another vital aspect of securing telehealth data includes remaining abreast of any current cybersecurity threats. Finding out up-to-date information related to telemedicine and cybersecurity.

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