By Richard Leon

In today’s healthcare landscape, cybersecurity is an interweaving of people, process, and technology. While technology propels modern healthcare, the human element is of paramount significance. Human interaction is a core principle in the mission to heal the body, mind, and spirit of patients. Nevertheless, the substantial number of personnel involved, multiplied by a myriad of processes and enabling technology creates significant cybersecurity risks.

The intersection of healthcare and cybersecurity has never been more critical, as the healthcare sector becomes an attractive target for malicious criminals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities in its digital infrastructure.

Safeguarding patient data and ensuring continuity of care is everyone’s responsibility. It requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses three principles: security and privacy first culture, Zero Trust and not “if” but when mentality.

Robust training and education

The phrase “it takes a village” is more relevant and poignant in healthcare than any other industry. The care journey of every patient is driven by expert clinicians and healthcare workers who follow a host of processes that usually involve technology and handling of private information.

Each healthcare employee who interacts with the patient, either physically or digitally, should understand cybersecurity implications and risks. Whether it is an email that can contain ransomware/malware or a medical device that has a software vulnerability, the end user should have a working knowledge to support their responsibility and protect the patient.

Training programs should emphasize the importance of strong password hygiene, recognizing suspicious emails, and adhering to established security protocols. By fostering a culture of cyber vigilance, healthcare organizations can create a formidable defense against external threats.

Security and Privacy First Culture

Cybersecurity professionals should work with clinicians and other cross functional teams to develop and implement cybersecurity guidelines and governance supported by robust training and awareness programs.

To build and truly adopt a security and privacy first culture and avoid gaps that create risks, the whole “village” must be involved.

Cybersecurity strategy should include provisions for managing the security of every person and device with a Zero Trust mentality. The Zero Trust concept is about controlled and managed inclusion with a goal to provide everyone safe and secure access to data needed to perform their job duties or manage their health condition.

A Zero Trust cybersecurity program uses authentication, identification and classification to identify anomalous activity which may indicate impermissible access to patient data.

Documenting and classifying where data is stored and how it is used is vital to developing a cybersecurity posture that enhances patient care. Active surveillance and protection of data can only be provided when we understand the acceptable use cases for that data.

The technology stack to support security and privacy controls is complex and unfortunately expensive but vital as the cloud-based industry and Artificial Intelligence become mainstream.

New era of patient interactions

The healthcare industry’s rapid adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), like Memorial’s MyChart, and other digital platforms has transformed patient care, streamlining processes and enhancing communication. This digital revolution, while beneficial, has also exposed the sector to potential breaches, data theft and ransomware attacks.

The rise of telehealth services further amplifies the urgency of healthcare cybersecurity. The widespread adoption of remote medical consultations and data sharing requires secure platforms. As telehealth continues to evolve, so must the strategies to protect it.

Robust encryption and secure authentication methods must be integrated into EHRs and other medical systems to safeguard patient data. Regular security audits and vulnerability assessments are essential to identify weak points and address them promptly. Simultaneously, partnerships with cybersecurity firms can provide access to cutting-edge tools and expertise, enabling healthcare systems to stay ahead of emerging threats.

Conclusion

Data is a valuable asset. The consequences of inadequate cybersecurity in healthcare are dire. A breach not only compromises sensitive patient information, such as medical records and personal identification, but it can also disrupt critical medical equipment and services, leading to life-threatening situations. Cyberattacks can halt patient care, delay surgeries, and result in medication errors, putting lives at risk.

Be prepared for the eventually of a cyber-incident. The “it will never happen to us” philosophy is flawed and will result in negative outcomes. Be prepared, perform drills and tests to ensure everyone is involved and understands what to do when a cyber-event occurs.

Understand the challenges, collectively find solutions, everyone is in this together.

Richard Leon is Chief Information Security Officer, Memorial Healthcare System.