Addressing Cybersecurity Issues in Telehealth

Frankie Wallace

The healthcare industry has been notoriously lackluster when it comes to cybersecurity for a long time now. The long story short is that doctors are more focused on caring for their physical patients than they are on worrying about their data. That is on top of the fact that major health issues like COVID-19 are causing doctors and nurses to be spread so thin that it is easy to miss the attempts of a hacker or cybercriminal.

Now, the popularity of telehealth means that more people can reach out to a medical professional than ever before; however, advancing technology also means that hackers can invent new ways to get into healthcare systems. The point is that medical professionals need to do more to protect their patients, and the patients must be more well-informed so they can protect themselves. Let’s talk about the situation and how to thwart cybersecurity issues in healthcare.

Risks In Healthcare And Telehealth

The healthcare sector is a very alluring area for hackers for several reasons. Most importantly is the fact that every time a patient goes to their doctor, they are providing their personal data from the moment they check in until they fill their prescription. All the data that they leave behind can be used maliciously by hackers. Most of us know that stolen credit card numbers can be used to take out fraudulent loans, but even seemingly innocent data like email addresses and birthdates can be used to launch new scams or be sold on the black market.

Of course, most businesses utilize and store personal data. However, hackers also know that many medical professionals simply do not take data security as seriously as they should. In addition to the fact that doctors believe they are too busy to focus on digital risks, as the healthcare field continues to evolve with new trends, including mobile technology and telehealth, there is simply too much to keep up with, and hackers thrive in that confusion. When a medical worker doesn’t fully understand how new tech operates, it is easier to make unintentional errors.

Needless to say, the biggest issue with cybersecurity in healthcare is that all medical professionals need better training. It is too easy for these professionals to be left in the dark when it comes to changes in device usage and new tech, so whenever a new process is introduced, doctors, nurses, and administrators must be provided with comprehensive training. The same goes for telehealth. The format exploded in popularity after COVID-19, so there is still a lot to learn, and medical teams must be brought up to speed.

The Health Industry Needs To Take Great Care Of Patient Data

Whether it involves telehealth or an in-office visit, medical professionals must always make it their top priority to protect patent information. This data can come from many sources and be kept in many different databases, so it is important always to be vigilant.

For instance, many doctors and nurses use personal devices to record data and track their day. While using these devices makes it easier to go from patient to patient; if they are not secure, then they risk the chance of being hacked. Portable devices must always be updated with the newest software, so they are protected against the latest threats. Also, it is essential to be cautious when using devices in restaurants and coffee shops where there is public Wi-Fi. Cybercriminals can set up fake networks that look like the real deal, but if you connect, then you are connecting directly to the hacker, and from there, they can access your systems and the data.

Patients should avoid engaging in telehealth sessions in public places. In addition to the threats mentioned above, you also risk the chance of a stranger listening in to your session from the next table over. They can also illegally or maliciously use the information that they hear.

Even data that is kept in-house can be compromised by hackers if it is not properly managed. Recently, there has been a rise in ransomware scams where a criminal is able to lock down the systems at a healthcare facility and prohibit doctors from access until they pay a hefty sum. This is particularly dangerous if a doctor is actively performing a procedure on a patient, and they don’t have the necessary data when they need it most. To prevent this potential issue, all healthcare and customer information should be backed up on independent servers so that if a ransomware attack does occur, doctors are able to complete their procedures while law enforcement is notified.

Protect Physical Data And Documents

Confidential data that is printed and stored also needs to be protected. Once the paperwork is no longer necessary or the law dictates that it can be removed and destroyed, then make sure to properly shred those documents so they cannot be stolen. Consider hiring an off-site shredding company that will come around on a regular basis, shred the documents, and then take them away to a secure facility where they will be disposed of properly. It is important to take this extra precaution to protect the privacy of your patients.

The Risks Of Telehealth

Both medical professionals and their patients need to be educated on the ins and outs of telehealth and how to use it properly so confidential information is not put at risk. If you are a patient who plans to use telehealth in the future, then you need to know that the information you add into the system can be used by hackers, so caution is essential.

Wait until you get an official confirmation email from the doctor before going online and providing any information. Doing so will reduce the chance that you could be falling for a phishing scam. A phishing scam is when a hacker pretends to be a doctor and sends an email that includes a link or attachment, but if you open it, then malware is installed, and the hacker will have direct access to your computer. If you get an email and you are unsure of its origin, then call the medical office directly and ask.

Since many patients are older and may not be aware of the risks, healthcare professionals must also do their part by educating users before they sign into a telehealth session and telling them the process, so they know what to expect.

Both patients and doctors must also be aware of the possibility that once a hacker has access to your computer, they can eavesdrop on telehealth sessions and use the information that they gather for malicious purposes. If you ever notice that there is a stranger joining in on the meeting, then confirm if they should be there, and if not, close the session and advise the IT team or run an antivirus scan.

As you can see, whether you are a doctor or a patient, protecting sensitive information is the top priority. Taking precautions and putting into practice the tips and advice mentioned here, you can have confidence that confidential data is safe and secure. 

Frankie Wallace

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