Developments in technology have had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. We can hardly get through an hour without tech having an effect on what we’re doing, let alone a full day. From the morning alarm on our smartphones, to the Bluetooth sound system in our cars, to the social media accounts we share everything on, technology surrounds us.
Perhaps one of the aspects that many of us think the least about is how it has utterly transformed the way we manage our healthcare data. The development of electronic health records and, even more importantly, the cloud, have brought about all sorts of changes. Many have the potential to impact our lives in both positive and negative ways depending upon how they are managed.
When it comes to our health data, there is an added urgency in making sure everything is safe and secure no matter where it is ultimately stored. Well managed data can mean a more efficient and effective healthcare service, while mismanaged data can lead to the loss of personal information and an unraveling of the privacy most of us have come to expect in a professional healthcare setting.
Medical Records, HIPAA and the Cloud
In 1996, the United States government passed HIPAA, a landmark healthcare act that helped to create and enforce privacy and data security requirements associated with medical information. The act has since been expanded in an effort to keep up with modern technologies, and nearly everyone involved in the healthcare system is expected to follow the rules. Because of this legislation, one can expect that their medical records will be kept private unless they choose to release them, no matter where they are stored.
Cloud-based data storage and technology provides numerous benefits to the healthcare system including things such as better dataset analysis, improved efficiencies in individual patient care, and a much lower cost. However, it can also lead to a number of concerns, especially when it comes to HIPAA compliance. HIPAA rules not only apply to the medical facilities that are using cloud technology, but also to the tech vendors as well.
Unfortunately, just because cloud technology providers are not exempt from HIPAA rules, does not mean that they necessarily follow them. There is no real certification process and the government doesn’t exactly clear companies to work with healthcare organizations. It is completely up to the healthcare entity and the tech provider to make sure their services are meeting the necessary HIPAA standards.
Loopholes in the System
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to both patients and healthcare providers to learn that there are popular new aspects of medicine and technology that aren’t necessarily covered by HIPAA regulations. For instance, HIPAA does not cover anonymized data such as the data that is collected during genetic testing. Essentially, this allows for a patient’s anonymous information to be shared at will.
When most people visit their health professional, they go in confidence that they are in good hands and the confidentiality of their health issues and personal information is protected. After all, who can a person trust more than their doctor? Unfortunately, while patients are safe a majority of the time, there is the chance that a data breach could result in the release of private information.
This breach could be because of a computer hacker, a system breakdown, or even a natural disaster. In any case, the healthcare organization is responsible for keeping patient data secure. If they fail to do so, then they must do damage control and patients must do what they need to in order to protect themselves. Here is a breakdown of what is expected of these companies and what consumers should do in the event of a medical data breach.
The Responsibility of Health Companies
When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was officially enacted in 2003, it set a precedent that health organizations must ensure that all patient information is private and confidential. Along with that came the HIPAA security rule, which says that the same organizations must perform risk analysis and have the proper safeguards in place so that data cannot be stolen or leaked to unauthorized individuals.
While many organizations have the proper barriers in place to protect the loss of data, there have been instances where significant breaches have resulted in major leaks. The data leaked in such a breach can include everything from patient names and addresses to Social Security numbers, which can be used to conduct identity theft. If you discovers that a breach has occurred and it affects your patients’ data, then you must take action. You should also prepare for your patients to do the same — often in the form of lawsuits.
Back in 2014, UCLA health was involved in a class-action lawsuit and had to pay out $7.5 million after hackers broke into their system and copied or stole the records of 4.5 million patients. Another such breach took place recently in 2019 when the teaching hospital at the University of Connecticut was infiltrated. In this instance, the hackers accessed employee email accounts, which also potentially contained patient records and Social Security numbers. The related class action suit is still pending.
Without a doubt, data is the driving force for innovation within healthcare. It has allowed for processes to be streamlined, busy work to be automated, and medical professionals to have more time with their patients. This data within health informatics is giving doctors, nurses, and the like access to better patient information and allowing more precision within their work.
These innovations are disrupting two arenas within the industry: patient care and institutional structure. Not only do these innovations in healthcare informatics better inform doctors and allow patients to receive an improved quality of care, but they can ensure that healthcare facilities run more smoothly. Here are a few ways that innovations from data informatics have been changing the world of healthcare.
More Patient-Focused Care
Data has allowed medical care to become more patient-focused. This means more time and effort is given to patients individually. Doctors have less paperwork to do because a lot of the organizational work is automated. But patients are also able to take care of themselves at home, or at least effectively communicate with doctors about their condition.
There are many applications for telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. We are seeing sexual health, disease symptoms and concerns, heart rate, dietary problems, and mental health counseling being addressed with apps or telemedicine practices.
For instance, rather than waiting for regularly scheduled checkups, some patients are able to take their own blood pressure and report it to their doctor using a mobile app. This is done through a process called computerized provider order entry (CPOE). Some doctors are wary of this practice, which has inspired conversations about the trustworthiness of patients. But it could be incredibly helpful for those with limited means of transportation or who rely on a caretaker.
AI is able to operate with expert precision and analyze patients in a way that doctors have never been able to. For instance, AI can accurately detect skin cancer. In the past, doctors would have to determine this from dermoscopic images. AI is able to analyze patients and provide a more accurate result. This advancement could have incredible consequences for cancer prevention.
While cybersecurity is an issue constantly addressed by the media and something small and large businesses alike are consistently focusing on, one of the biggest digital dilemmas comes from the healthcare system. This may be unsurprising, given that financial records and personal data are all stored within patient care files. Hackers are fully aware of the value of this data, and it’s about time that the medical industry shows that it does as well.
Sadly, one in four consumers have had their
healthcare data breached. This calls for swift action by the players in the
field. Some experts think that the answer can be found in blockchain. That’s
right — the same technology that secures Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
could soon become the key to protecting patient records.
While there have been ongoing discussion among
government and finance officials about the actual risks of cryptocurrency, it’s
generally agreed upon by tech experts that blockchain is one of the most secure
ways to go. Will the world see this technology implemented into its healthcare
systems soon, though? It’s very possible that the answer is “yes.”
The Security of Blockchain Makes
It the Best Ledger for Healthcare Networks
The reason that blockchain technology a
regular part of public discussion and being normalized in new industries so
frequently is its transparency and security measures. It’s garnered public,
private, criminal, and government interest due to this, and it’s doubtful that
its popularity will stop anytime soon. But what is it about the ledger that
makes it so safe?
Primarily, it’s the unique approach it takes
to security keys. There wouldn’t be a way for someone to modify or corrupt
information within a blockchain system without the relevant key. At one point
it was even believed that the technology was unhackable.
While there is still debate over what it means to hack blockchain networks and
whether or not it’s even been done, that debate still points to the safety of
those networks at large. Without a doubt, it is the most secure ledger for
protecting personal data — and hospitals may need it the most.
Making It Official
The lengths at which blockchain is being
adapted cannot be understated. Government officials are starting to explore the
technology, and the big four investment firms are even beginning to pay attention to it. But what
does this mean for the healthcare industry?
Well right now, blockchain still is not the
norm. Currently, if a hospital or healthcare organization wants to adopt it,
they are probably making the best move in terms of security.
While there are downsides to this kind of mass
adoption (discussed at further length below), it also calls for advancements to
be made, which could better these systems as a whole. It should be noted that
with something as new as blockchain technology hitting the greater market,
there are a lot of changes bound to happen that cannot be accurately predicted
The Adaptation of Blockchain in
Culture May Challenge Security
Granted, it is very important to recognize
that blockchain’s mass acceptance could adulterate the technology. With
businesses at large implementing it into their operations and the parallel use
of mobile money tools in modern society, people are going to start looking for
loopholes. Hackers are going to make it their duty to try and disrupt it.
For this reason, there needs to be external precautions set up for security. A good example is business insurance — something necessary for every hospital, even with blockchain implementation. The loss of mass amounts of data is bound to occur, so hospitals need to be protected, even when their systems seem foolproof.
Right now, hospitals and organizations at
large need to understand that blockchain is a very important technology to the
future of healthcare. But it cannot be solely depended on, either. Other
precautions need to be taken to protect patient data by the healthcare
industry. Blockchain may be the best option healthcare networks have for data
When you hear the words “cancer treatment,” you probably think of things like chemotherapy, radiation or even hair loss. While many cancer patients go through painful procedures that create uncomfortable and life-changing side effects, there might be new ways to help them deal with the disease and their care.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are technology trends in healthcare that have recently taken the industry by storm. While many researchers have been interested in this technology for some time, it’s only been in the past few years that studies have started to prove its usefulness in helping cancer patients undergoing care. Here are the essentials you should know to understand the use of VR and AR for cancer patients.
What are VR and AR?
Virtual reality is an immersive technology that closes the user off from the real world. Using a headset and video screen, the user can feel the experience of being transported to new locations. If you’re unfamiliar with this technology, do a quick online search to find videos of people who feel they are falling or that things are moving toward them in such a way that they instinctively shift their body to avoid contact. These videos are amusing, but this technology is so much more than just fun.
Augmented reality, often called AR, uses a camera or smartphone to add digital elements to the real world. Typical uses are lenses on the popular app Snapchat or the ever-intriguing game of Pokemon Go. AR has many applications in healthcare as well.
Use of VR and AR in healthcare
Medicine and other treatments are both palliative and curative. However, all medicines and procedures have limitations and at times create negative effects that patients must adapt to or learn to overcome. Researchers continually look for new ways to impact patient care with immersive technologies and other cutting-edge advancements. Both AR and VR have received acclaim for their role in the healthcare industry.
Not only can this tech help patients, but it can improve healthcare as a whole. A few of the ways VR is impacting healthcare can be seen in the treatment of chronic pain, the restoration of low vision in older patients or those with damaged vision, and the expedited recovery of patients after traumatic brain injury.
Your health is the most personal part of your life. Going into a doctor’s office or hospital makes a person feel vulnerable, even if they’re only there for a routine checkup. There’s an unspoken trust between patient and doctor that whatever is discussed or recorded will remain private. When your protected health information (PHI) gets out, either accidentally or purposefully, it can be embarrassing and seriously affect your life.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been around since 1996. It was created to formalize data and privacy security requirements so that PHI remains safe. Healthcare administrators and staff such as nurses who work with patient records must be trained in these regulations, and they also must know how to handle HIPAA violations.
The growth of HIPAA violations
HIPAA compliance has always been important, but it’s become even more of a hot topic in recent years as the number of data breaches has climbed. Between 2009 and 2015, HIPAA violations occurred mainly because of loss or theft of healthcare records and PHI. Encryption and improved policies reduced those types of breaches. From 2015 to 2018, top causes of HIPAA violations included hacking incidents and unauthorized access and disclosures. There’s more than one healthcare data breach reported per day, and nearly 190,000,000 healthcare records have been stolen or exposed since 2009.
Common HIPAA security violations
A HIPPA violation involves the loss or unauthorized access of PHI. This includes identifying information that gets out, such as the patient’s name, date of birth, contact information, photos, or healthcare records. A data breach may occur when:
A tech device, like a laptop, smartphone or USB, is lost or stolen
PHI is accidentally sent to the wrong patient
A break-in at the medical office results in theft of patient records
A cybersecurity breach occurs, like hacking, malware or ransomware
Employees talk about PHI outside the medical office