Healthcare organizations are adopting mobile technologies in place of old legacy systems for faster, better communication. With each technological advancement, however, comes new risks and vulnerabilities within the healthcare sector. As hospitals and clinics try to replace pagers and paper files, there are many security obstacles standing in the way of effective mobility. What they want is to serve patients faster by sharing confidential information on-the-go with mobile medical devices, but to do so they need these devices to be secure.
The vital question that healthcare organizations must ask before deploying new digital solutions is the most important part in the technological advancement journey: are mobile devices and the information shared between them secure? Before we begin to answer this question, let’s take a step back and see how healthcare technology has changed overtime and led the sector to the tough decisions they face today.
Understanding the medical industry’s major shift to mobile devices and digital healthcare
While the healthcare industry has witnessed many technology trends over the past 50 years, the latest shift toward sharing electronic patient health information (ePHI), electronic health records (EHR), and mobile messaging grew as a result of a mobile-centric work culture driven by an emerging dependence on mobile devices. To put it simply, relying on legacy systems was wasting time. But time is one of healthcare’s most precious resources. Using time efficiently is at the root of saving lives and improving patient outcomes, so things began to change.
The collective dependency on mobile devices was made possible by the digitization of health information technology. The shift away from paper files to EMR, EHR and ePHI has empowered clinicians with the easy transfer of patient data and has saved major healthcare organizations an incredible amount of time and money. In fact, one study reports benefits for large hospitals can range from $37M to $59M over a five-year period. From an operational perspective, these cost savings are the direct result of enhanced communication between clinics, doctors and labs, as well as improved medical practice management.
The benefits of having these digital files has been enhanced by the introduction of new mobile health apps over recent years that provide time (and money) saving software. From allowing healthcare professionals to securely communicate, simplify dealings with insurance companies and more, these healthcare vendors are working with the digitization process to improve healthcare. Many aspects of this process, however, have begun to raise several questions on the safe handling of electronic health records and the rights of the patients whose information is shared digitally.
HIPAA’s role in protecting confidential patient information
A study by Infinite Convergence Solutions reported that 92% of healthcare institutions use non HIPAA-compliant messaging apps. The consequences of using consumer-facing or built-in SMS texting apps have resulted in industry-wide fines upwards of $26,400,000 since HIPAA’s inception. It has been found that these systems fail to meet the security requirements necessary for the safe practice of patient file-transfers across mobile devices.
While data encryption is not a HIPAA requirement, it is considered an addressable standard against accessibility from a foreign party. It might seem harmless enough to just send a text, but any physician or office that gets caught violating HIPAA gets slammed with huge fines. To add some numbers to this conversation, we are talking up to $50,000 per incidence of a HIPAA violation. Beyond the monetary risks, there are an immense amount of security concerns that every healthcare professional needs to be aware of and take the right steps to prevent.
The risks of operating outside the privacy standards established by the OCR, particularly while using messaging apps, have surfaced to a larger extent due to recent cyberattacks targeting hospitals and medical facilities. The latest threat, Ransomware, has recently infiltrated wearable and medical devices. Security experts predict that these hackers may have the capacity to disable personal devices by encrypting files and blocking-out administrators.
Let's look at some recent statistics: not only are healthcare organizations 200% more likely to experience a cyber-attack in general, but it's estimated that nearly 94% of healthcare organizations have already been a victim of a one. Most of these attacks occurred due to the usage of non-updated systems and devices with old operating systems. According to one study, 80% of iPhone users are not running the latest iOS, which makes up a large percentage of medical staff.
Healthcare professionals, IT departments, and technology vendors must all stay vigilant
In light of the recent shift toward digital files and mobile usage within the healthcare industry, health app vendors must develop solutions that are built with the preventative measures to evade HIPAA compliance issues and security threats. Common mistakes driven by bad workplace practices can be avoided through staff education and the mandated use of HIPAA-compliant solutions on all medical devices.
The benefits of mobile devices have the power to revolutionize healthcare, but necessary steps must be taken from all parties to secure the devices used in this advancement. Securing medical devices depends on the intersection of vendor encryption, proper HIPAA compliance strategies, compliance education, and vigilant device management. In order for mobile to really take off in healthcare these changes must happen, and they must happen fast.
Visit our website to learn how Lua can help keep mobile healthcare communication secure and HIPAA compliant.