Contributed by Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, 

Many people can remember times when medical office staff members largely dealt with paper records. Those days have passed, and most data now exists online. It’s now more important than ever to keep this information safe. Here’s why.

There’s a growing amount of health data to manage

One of the most prominent reasons to focus on healthcare data security now relates to the sheer amount in existence. Thus, organizations and professionals must enact and uphold policies that reduce the likelihood of errors or data misuse.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that 85.9% of office-based doctors use electronic medical records systems. According to Statista, there were 870,900 active medical doctors in the country as of 2015. Those two statistics combined emphasize how much health data there is to secure.

However, they don’t account for information related to people outside the United States. This also doesn’t apply to data stored in the increasingly popular health apps users often download to complement fitness routines, stress reduction measures or healthy eating efforts.

A 2019 study examined 441 behavioral health apps. Researchers confirmed that the total global app downloads ranged from 872,600 to 42.3 million. Many of the applications likely don’t ask for extensive health data from users.

However, some delve into sensitive subjects, such as self-harm. When people use applications, they anticipate positive experiences. Upholding those expectations requires app developers and all relevant parties to prioritize data security at all stages.

Solid security practices bolster patient trust

Many health data platforms enhance patient care quality and accelerate physician decision-making. Doctors often use point-of-care platforms to ensure patients get the right tests ordered at the appropriate times.

When patients get prompt, accurate diagnoses, they can begin prescribed treatment paths. As many people see their physicians over years or even decades, a vital trust develops and influences patients’ opinions about their providers and the overall quality of care.

That trust understandably gets stronger if a provider and practice follow data security best practices, too. That’s why many medical facilities feature sections on their websites explaining data usage policies. Similarly, if providers offer patient access portals, they frequently publish security reminders, such as urging people to pick unique, hard-to-guess passwords when setting up their accounts.

Healthcare data security supports privacy laws

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) contains a security rule stipulating national standards for holding and protecting digital health information. It encompasses matters such as keeping data confidential, protecting against unauthorized usage, identifying and mitigating privacy risks and ensuring that applicable employees in an organization comply with the rule.

HIPAA shortcomings can lead to massive fines, reputational damage and increased scrutiny. However, when organizations understand and follow privacy laws, they’re less likely to encounter trouble. Maintaining a strong privacy culture in an organization can also minimize errors due to carelessness or hurriedness.

It’s one thing to send an email about meeting for lunch to the wrong person. That error becomes significantly more serious when the incorrect individual gets someone’s confidential medical information. Such errors are certainly not unique to healthcare. However, the sensitive nature of data stored and transmitted in the industry makes it crucial to maintain patient privacy and to follow error reduction protocols.

Data security promotes positive healthcare outcomes

The greater access to data in the healthcare sector brings more convenience to workers and patients. A doctor can quickly retrieve a medical record and see the results of recent tests, even if they happened in another location. Similarly, a person receiving care from a treatment team can access a health portal and check their next appointment time or ask their physician about new symptoms through a secure email feature.

These examples show that the growing amount of health data and access to it can be positive for all parties authorized to access it. However, as the available information continues increasing, the people and companies responsible for safeguarding it should periodically update strategies and policies appropriately. Doing those things will minimize the likelihood of unwanted consequences.