Medical Advancement on Patient Privacy: It Must Be Protected At All Cost
Most people in medicine understand that working in the healthcare industry requires dedication, attention to detail, and a very high level of trustworthiness. When they think about that trustworthiness in terms of patient confidentiality, they usually frame it in the context of HIPPA requirements and just generally not discussing patient specifics with people not involved in their care. And while it’s true that they must be very selective in who knows the private details of someone’s health, there is a whole separate realm of confidentiality that is not always at the forefront of providers’ thinking. However, it is considerably more detrimental to the patient than simply letting details slip in a conversation. We’re talking about cyber security and the need for good Internet software for data loss prevention to ensure that hackers and other criminals cannot access personal information about patients and clients. There are several reasons why a failure in this area is even more destructive than a lapse in medical confidentiality. A Larger Number of Invaders Reckless conversation with friends or relatives about a patient’s health can prove embarrassing within a small circle and is certainly a very unprofessional act by the provider. However, a failure to properly secure patient data such as insurance data, payment methods, and social security numbers can allow a large number of thieves and hackers to make off with the victim’s personal data. Bear in mind that stolen data is a valued good on the black market, and it is bought and sold just the same as any legitimate good or service. Should a single hacker get past your security and tap into the information you store about a patient, he or she can sell those items to a potentially limitless group of buyers. Those buyers are very savvy about using the data and will quickly do as much profitable damage as they can, often before the victim knows anything is happening. A Larger Number of Victims Speaking of the victims, their numbers are much larger after data breaches. If you fail to implement the most current security measures, it won’t be a single patient that is victimized. Once the criminals have opened your security “door,” it is open season on everyone you have data on. And as noted earlier, these criminals work quickly. They won’t come in and steal a few, then return later after you’ve discovered their actions. Instead, they will make a single entry, clean off the shelves, and possibly never come back. By the time you know they have gotten to anybody, they have already gotten to everybody. Not only does an event like this prove destructive to your patients, it can bury your business. Even if your reputation can somehow survive the negative publicity of a security breach, your bottom line probably won’t. A Bigger Financial Impact That’s because part of the financial impact is on you, of course. You may be ordered to pay for credit monitoring for your victims, reimburse them for financial losses, hire investigators, or cover any of a wide array of expenses linked to your negligent management of patient information. Even in the absence of a court order to do so, your only hope at salvaging your business may be to offer these services. That’s to say nothing of the financial impact on your patients. Many of them are already financially strapped due to old age or an inability to work, so the monetary losses they could incur from hackers could lead them to a financial ruin that won’t be quick to fix. A Tougher Investigation That carries us to the fix. If you divulge the details of someone’s medical condition to people who don’t need to know, that information doesn’t travel all that far. But once an electronic means has been utilized to spread personal data accessed by hackers, the potential range of that information is unlimited. In fact, many hackers operate in US systems from overseas, making it nearly impossible to trace them, and making a conviction just as difficult due to the complexities of international law, extradition, and trial, to say nothing of the uncooperative nature of the governments in many of the nations where these data thieves operate. Maintaining interpersonal confidentiality about the medical details of patients’ lives has long been a hallmark of the medical profession. But the technology that has come along to manage and share the process of providing care opens an entirely separate world of vulnerability where patients need just as much vigilance and attention.