Health Data Vulnerabilities


Over the past two decades, our society has become increasingly intertwined in the world of data and analytics. Everywhere from restaurant recommendations to customized grocery store coupons, data has made our lives more efficient and seamless. While there still unexplored areas, healthcare may have the highest hopes for what benefits data can hold for the future, industry and patient care alike.

As the healthcare industry moves toward harnessing the power of data, stakeholders have accelerated the digitizing of patient medical records. By doing so, healthcare organizations are able to leverage computing power to solve tough issues. While this can improve the quality and ease of care, as well as create greater efficiencies throughout the health process, it also has exposed healthcare organizations to information security vulnerabilities.

Leaving the Door Open

Although legislative and policy changes, such as the HITECH Act, encouraged the digitization of health records, they also created their own issues. As organizations rushed to accommodate these new regulations, the process was handled in such a disjointed way that it left their systems and sensitive health data vulnerable to attack.

What’s more alarming is that cybercriminals no longer relegate their attacks to the financial sector, but are expanding their target to healthcare organizations and providers. In the past few months alone, there have been more than four health security breaches that have resulted in data losses.

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Part of the reason for this epidemic is that medical records have become far more lucrative than a consumer’s financial information, often bringing in more than five times the amount of money. And where there is money, identity thieves are not far behind.

Healthcare organizations are in the infancy stage of digitizing medical records, so most have not adopted the same vigorous security standards as most financial institutions. Furthermore, now that patients, providers, payers and pharmacies all have access to sensitive medical information from remote locations, identity thieves can attack the system at the weakest point.

Protective Tools

While it’s easy to blame the Big Data for the recent vulnerabilities of healthcare information, that mindset is a bit misleading. It’s important to remember that data itself is not the reason for security concerns or fraudulent activity.

Often overshadowed by much of the negative attention given to information security, data and analytics are the keys to protecting healthcare information, as well as improving health outcomes. There are a number of tools that harness the power of analytics to minimize the potential of fraud and to help protect healthcare data. In the appropriate hands, the benefits can be endless.

Data can help assess the risk of a patient’s remote interaction by analyzing the device and usage characteristics and alerting stakeholders to potential anomalies. Likewise, they can enable healthcare providers to determine any insurance or financial benefits that patients qualify for as soon as they arrive for treatment and also use power identity-matching tools that can confirm if patients are who they claim to be. These interactions are cross-referenced across millions of other data sets.

Goals Going Forward

By identifying certain patterns, data enables health providers to detect if someone is inappropriately trying to gain access into the system as well as to ensure that proper care is given to a specific individual. It’s these types of systems and capabilities that offer patients and medical providers convenience, protection and the peace of mind that they can safely access medical information through remote portals.

Regardless of industry, priorities for data remain the same: minimize risk and cut costs while making systems and processes function better. To ensure our medical information is secure, healthcare organizations need to take the same robust measures that are used to protect billions of financial transactions.

By using data and analytics to safeguard patient medical information, the healthcare industry can take full advantage of the efficiencies also created. When harnessed to its fullest potential, data can be a force for good – for patients, hospitals and society.

Dan Johnson is Executive Vice President of Strategy for Experian Health.

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