Electronic health records (EHRs), sometimes called electronic medical records (EMRs), have become indispensable tools in the healthcare industry. According to the CDC, approximately 89.9% of office-based physicians use EHR systems, with 72.3% using certified EHR/EMR systems.
With a staggering number of doctors using EHRs, it’s clear that these systems are highly beneficial. They lead to higher productivity and improved patient care. However, using EHRs also exposes healthcare providers to certain cybersecurity risks.
Understanding the Importance of EHR Security
Data breaches in the healthcare sector are increasing, meaning threat actors are targeting providers like never before. In 2022, 40 million Americans’ health records were stolen or exposed due to security vulnerabilities in providers’ EHR/EMR systems.
As mentioned above, these electronic systems have played a critical role in the digital transformation of the healthcare sector. EHRs allow physicians to easily enter, store and maintain patient medical data using laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Doctors can include sensitive patient information in EHRs, such as demographics, medical history, test results, medications, and other critical health data. However, this data is highly sensitive — it’s considered personally identifiable information (PII).
If a hacker gets their hands on this data, they can sell it on the dark web, ask for a ransom payment, post it online, or even steal patients’ identities. The consequences of stolen patient data have far-reaching implications, which is why EHR security must be a top priority for all types of healthcare providers.
5 Tips to Improve EHR Security in the Health Care Sector
Security and confidentiality concerns are major barriers to EHR adoption. Healthcare providers must follow the HIPAA Security Rule, which requires the protection of electronic patient health data, regardless of where it’s stored, sent, or used.
Despite the growing number of EHR cybersecurity concerns, there are several ways providers can protect themselves, their patients, and their practices from potential threats.
1. Provide EHR System Training
Even though EHR systems are effective tools in health care, they’re also a potential entry point for cybercriminals. That’s why healthcare practices should require formal employee training in EHR systems.
Employees — such as doctors, nurses, and administrators — must know the inner workings of these systems to reduce the likelihood of human error, which could lead to cybersecurity incidents. Another benefit of improving EHR system training is that it can lead to greater employee satisfaction, reducing employees’ feelings of burnout and frustration.
2. Perform Routine Risk Assessments
Another way to improve EHR security is to perform routine risk assessments. These tests determine how vulnerable an organization is to cybersecurity risks and offer suggestions for patches and other mitigation measures.
Since healthcare organizations are constantly evolving, they must run risk assessments regularly. These tests will account for any new vulnerabilities and help the practice stay on top of cybersecurity concerns.
3. Run Vulnerability Scans and Penetration Tests
In addition to conducting risk assessments, healthcare companies can run vulnerability scans and penetration tests, two other cybersecurity solutions. Managing vulnerabilities is critical in today’s cybersecurity landscape. Some examples of vulnerability management tools include Hexway Vampy, Acunetix, Invicti, and Astra Pentest.
These tools help organizations discover weaknesses in their network infrastructure or internal systems. Penetration testing, also called ethical hacking, will help companies determine how easy or difficult it is for cybercriminals to launch targeted attacks. From there, healthcare organizations can boost security measures according to the test results.
4. Use Firewalls, Antivirus Software, and Data Encryption
Companies can take a few security measures to secure their network and applications. For example, firewalls, antivirus software, and data encryption are three popular cybersecurity techniques healthcare teams can implement for protection.
Firewalls make it difficult for cybercriminals to access a company’s network. As its name suggests, antivirus software will detect and remove viruses from the organization’s devices that contain patient information. Lastly, encrypting patient data makes it unusable for cybercriminals — only users with a key can decrypt data. These three tools must be a top priority for all healthcare organizations.
5. Review Audit Trails
Finally, many EHR systems have an audit trail or log feature. This feature records all user activity, such as who accessed EHR information, at what time, and the data they accessed. Reviewing these details ensures that no one outside the organization is accessing sensitive PII.
These logs ensure health care employees are not misusing EHRs, which can help reduce the chances of cybercrimes. Employees only access EHR data for specific purposes, such as typing patient notes, recording their vitals, or updating medication lists.
Protecting Patient Data With EHR Security
The ultimate goal for healthcare providers is to keep patient information safe and comply with various healthcare data security requirements. Regardless of the benefits EHRs offer, they’re becoming a major target for threat actors because these systems contain sensitive, valuable information.
Healthcare organizations must ensure EHR security is a top priority, especially as cyberattacks and data breaches in the industry become more frequent and sophisticated.