The Importance of Cybersecurity in Mental Health Services

Frankie Wallace

The importance of cybersecurity in the modern world cannot be understated. Over the last two years, we’ve seen cybercrime take off as criminals attempt to leverage pandemic fears and insecurities to steal money from the average citizen. COVID-19 birthed a second pandemic of cybercrime, and those using virtual tools for mental health services are uniquely at risk.

That’s because technology has been invaluable in providing mental health services throughout the pandemic. However, with the digital threats inherent in Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and telehealth systems, we need effective cybersecurity measures to ensure patient safety. 

In this article, we’ll explore the necessity of digital security in mental health services and how you can support safer systems.

The Tech Involved in Modern Mental Health Services

In every industry, technology has come to play a bigger role across business processes. Tech equals easier work. That’s because real-time data communication, AI analysis, and cloud services all offer unprecedented convenience and accuracy across information systems. In healthcare, where these features can literally make the difference between life and death, it’s no wonder that technology has important implications.

The internet and all its connected devices have changed healthcare, enabling greater access and transparency into health treatments. When it comes to treating mental health, this means serving more patients, catching problems faster, and conducting better research.

The following are the technologies making a real difference in mental health services:

Telehealth

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become a popular form of therapy and psychiatry. This is no small part because virtual appointments offer accessibility and cost savings for patients and therapy facilities alike. Telehealth services include treatments for depression, anxiety, and ADHD, with additional diagnostic and health assistance potential being pursued and integrated across the medical field.

Telehealth has been enabled by the popularity of smart mobile devices. With 5G connectivity, more patients are better served than ever before by virtual conferencing, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. For mental health services, telehealth has been a game-changer. However, broader cybersecurity solutions are necessary to protect these services.

Artificial Intelligence

Meanwhile, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made incredible progress on the mental health front. Therapy and mental health services are some of the most expensive and in-demand medical treatments out there, so AI is welcome wherever it helps reduce costs for patients. Previously, it wasn’t possible to automate any part of this work. 

Now, however, AI systems like Woebot are learning to listen and help users through personalized, automated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While not ideal for every user due to the limitations of the AI, these options represent constantly available and affordable mental health for countless patients.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

Mental health services would also look much different without the prevalence of EHRs in navigating overlapping treatment plans. These digital records connect patients to specialists and their own data, building a world of more effective and transparent mental health care.

Mental health and physical health are connected more than you might think, and those that need one service are more likely to need another. Progressing venous diseases, for instance, are linked with mental health struggles. Meanwhile, good mental health can improve physical health and therefore, treatment outcomes. EHRs ensure that all these variables are linked in a manner that’s accessible for first responders, nurses, and doctors. 

All these technologies are vital to mental health services as they expand to reach the people that need them most. Unfortunately, however, the digital nature of these tools also means that they present more of a risk when it comes to cyber-attacks.

Risks to Mental Health Information Systems

Cybercrime will continue to be a major concern for healthcare facilities and service providers. Reason being, medical information is valued at an estimated $250 per record on the black market while the next most valuable piece of information is a payment/credit card number at $5.40 per record. Cybercriminals won’t hesitate to target medical servers to obtain this valuable information. 

This puts those using mental health services on networked technologies at significant risk of data theft, ransomware, and so much more. In fact, some of the most common cybersecurity attacks on mental health systems include:

  • Ransomware
  • Malicious network traffic
  • Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) cache poisoning
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks 
  • Phishing

For patients living with mental illness, the threat alone of these attacks on their private medical information can mitigate the progress made by technology in improving the accessibility of care. Invasive attacks can occur at the point of information transfer or from within a healthcare professional’s email. To create a sense of trust and privacy which is necessary in medical care, mental health services have to adopt a strong pattern of cybersecurity best practices.

Ways to Implement Cybersecurity Solutions in Care

Maintaining strong cybersecurity itself can be a drain on mental health. With so much to consider and protect against and the possibility for problems to arise at any turn, digital protections have to be constantly on. That means AI automation will be your best friend more often than many other tools. 

From there, you can find tools and training that support storing medical data to HIPAA standards and more. Mental health professionals of all kinds require safe data systems that can keep them functioning at high capacity while ensuring the security of patient data. The worst thing for someone already struggling might be the theft of financial information. In the case of child welfare social workers, the breach of this confidential data can even impact the safety of children. 

With that in mind, implement the kind of cybersecurity that can restore patient trust in healthcare amid large-scale cybercrime. The following tips can help:

  1. Provide cybersecurity training for all staff. Human error plays a role in 90% of data breaches; therefore, proper cybersecurity training is paramount.
  1. Use proven processes and systems. Reading reviews of different systems and speaking with cybersecurity professionals can assist in your journey to find proven tools to protect data.
  1. Secure system access. Develop secure keys for internal systems, accessible only through multi-factor authentication. 
  1. Consistently update all software. Keep systems protected with the most recent patches and fixes.
  1. Never stop innovating. Ensure you continue to budget for the latest in cybersecurity protections and adopt industry best practices.

Cybersecurity is vital in protecting the systems we need to provide adequate mental health services at scale. Modern technology is creating unprecedented efficiency in healthcare, but we need protections in place if we are to experience any real benefit in public mental health care. Following these tips will help you develop more secure services. 


Frankie Wallace

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