By Sarah M. Worthy

In the healthcare industry, security risks are a significant concern. Healthcare workers are vulnerable to physical attacks, and sensitive patient information can be at risk of being breached. Additionally, hospitals are not immune to cyberattacks on their networks.

healthcare industry has emphasized cybersecurity in recent years, but it’s equally important not to overlook the physical risks clinicians face daily. With modern healthcare relying heavily on digital systems, healthcare organizations must proactively protect patient data and prevent cyberattacks on hospital systems.

Healthcare workers face real physical risks while performing their duties, and violence against them is a growing concern. The International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) reported a surge in the number of assaults taking place in U.S. hospitals in 2020. According to IAHSS, the responding hospitals in their survey recorded a rise of over 23% in assault rates from 10.9 incidents per 100 beds in 2019 to 14.2 incidents per 100 beds in 2020. This represents a record-high number of assaults that occurred at hospital facilities in the United States.

Unfortunately, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against clinicians has only increased. Patients, family members, and even strangers can pose a threat, causing not only harm to healthcare workers but also disrupting patient care and damaging the reputation of healthcare facilities.

To address these physical security risks, healthcare organizations must prioritize the safety of their workers. Implementing training programs that teach clinicians how to recognize and respond to potential threats is essential. Also, installing security measures, such as video surveillance systems and panic buttons, can help protect healthcare workers from violent incidents. Clear policies should also be implemented to report violent incidents and support affected workers.

The Technology Aspect

Additionally, the use of technology in modern healthcare has brought about a new set of challenges that clinicians must contend with. Cybersecurity threats pose a serious risk to healthcare organizations, as patient data is highly sensitive and a prime target for cybercriminals. Breaches can result in significant consequences, from identity theft to the encryption of hospital systems and demands for ransom.

Some key challenges when it comes to cybersecurity in the healthcare industry include phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, insider threats, data breaches, and social engineering attacks. 

According to a report by the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST), phishing attacks were responsible for 37% of all reported healthcare data breaches in 2019. Ransomware attacks are also becoming more common in the healthcare sector and involve encrypting data and demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key.

Data breaches are another risk, with 642 reported healthcare data breaches in 2020 alone, resulting in the exposure of over 29 million patient records. Insider threats and social engineering attacks are other risks and refer to individuals causing harm to the healthcare organization’s data or systems and tricking individuals into divulging sensitive information, respectively. 

Data Security

Data security and privacy is a major area of concern that healthcare organizations need to better prioritize. Both customer and physician data are at risk due to policy and administrative failure, outdated technology, and a revolving door of high turnover due to poor employee retention. Common data privacy issues in healthcare organizations like HIPAA violations, electronic health record breaches, third-party data breaches, and overall misuse of patient and employee data put healthcare organizations at risk. Employee data security is also regularly disregarded in the industry and needs to be managed and prioritized.

Strategies for mitigating cybersecurity and data privacy risks are essential to improve security on the cyber-front. Security protocols, audits, extensive and ongoing training and the use of encryption and access controls are essential for healthcare organizations but are often not implemented effectively. Organizations need a cybersecurity approach that is multifaceted and technologically advanced. 

A solution like this includes encrypting sensitive data, keeping software up-to-date, and using firewalls and other security software. It also requires training employees to recognize and prevent common cybersecurity threats, such as phishing attacks and malware. Proper password management, including complex passwords and regular changes, should also be emphasized. 

To effectively address the challenges of physical and cybersecurity risks in healthcare, organizations need to have a comprehensive plan in place. This means not only taking proactive measures but also having protocols for responding to attacks if they do occur. Backups of critical data and communication channels should be established to keep everyone informed and help restore systems as quickly as possible.

Summing It Up

It’s important to understand that physical and cybersecurity risks are interconnected and must be addressed holistically. Clinicians must be equipped to handle both types of risks to ensure that patient care remains safe and effective. This requires employee training, technology solutions, and well-established policies.

Taking a proactive approach to security is essential for healthcare organizations to protect their patients, employees, and reputations in the face of ever-evolving security threats. By implementing a comprehensive security plan, healthcare organizations can help safeguard against physical and digital risks and ensure patient data safety and privacy.

Sarah M. Worthy is CEO and founder of DoorSpace. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].