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How Technology Advancements Can Be A Stronger Firewall For Data Privacy In Healthcare

With the advancement of technology, data has become the new oil. Hence, the significance of protecting data has now become paramount. This includes everything from protecting personal information to intellectual property from likely damage and theft. What makes the healthcare sector a prime target for data theft is outdated technology and hesitancy with the adoption of newer advancements. Healthcare organisations possess large amounts of data that is of high monetary and intelligence value. The critical and confidential information not only includes financial information but also the patient’s personal information. The best way for healthcare providers to protect their patients' data is by switching over to newer technologies and abiding by the regulations.  

Importance of patient Data Management and Law 

A study published in 2020 in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that 15 Crore patients lost their financial information to hackers over the last 10 years. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) journal showed that the year 2015 had the three worst massive data breaches in the United States of America. Considering that this is the case in developed countries, where there are stringent rules in place to protect patient information as per the HIPPA guidelines, developing countries have to use the lessons learned from the past and develop the necessary healthcare infrastructure to protect patients' data responsibly.

With stricter laws coming into place around the world, like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), China’s Personal Information Protection Law and California’s CCPA, etc. to protect its citizens, India has also moved ahead to bring in the "Digital India Act" to replace the existing "IT Act" and regulations and the Personal Data Protection Bill. 

Healthcare data security measures

With the government's approval of telemedicine in India in March 2020, data protection has become a serious matter. Lakhs of people in India avail of this facility every day and this has become the new normal even in Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets. Therefore, electronic health records (EHS) have come to the rescue to ensure that patient, caregiver, and healthcare team communication documentation is maintained as per the regulatory guidelines.

Keeping security in mind, the majority of the EHS systems and healthcare applications have been regularly updated to meet the Indian IT Act, HIPPA, and GDPR. This ensures that the latest global guidelines that are available are followed. The current measures that are being implemented by the healthcare system to prevent data breaches are along the lines of

  • Healthcare staff education: Human errors or neglect are the main reasons behind the majority of the data breaches that occur around the world. Therefore, timely security training for the staff and regular updating of the staff with security protocols have to be done. 
  • Restricted access and data usage: Based on roles and responsibilities, the access of the staff needs to be restricted to select data. Access controls can be set in place with an approval mechanism. This could be along the lines of multi-layer security passwords, restrictions on upload and download, or extraction to an external hard-drive.
  • Data Encryption at rest and in transit: A double encryption of data that is at rest and in transit is considered optimal for data security. 
  • Mobile device security: Today, mobile devices have seamless access to the main databases for regular updating of password security, encryption of application data, following and educating on mobile security best practices, etc.
  • Mitigate connected device risks: In the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), it’s important to maintain mobile devices on a separate network. This can be followed by continuous monitoring to ensure that there are no sudden changes in the utilisation and activity levels of the data usage, multi-factor authentication in place for the device's systems and constantly updated software. 
  • Data Backup: The data must be regularly backed up to an offsite location to maintain data security in case of attacks like "ransomware."
  • Risk analysis and mitigation plans: The healthcare organisation should regularly conduct risk analysis and mitigation drills to ensure that all the gaps are plugged at regular intervals. 

New-age healthcare models set new standards for data privacy  

The emergence of new-age healthcare models in the recent past has set a new standard for healthcare data privacy in India. This has drastically influenced the system to tighten the data security norms for traditional players as well. These tech-enabled, asset-light platforms follow stringent measures to secure the data, which includes saving the patient data in a centrally secured repository and making it nearly impossible for anyone to access that data through their personal devices. Even if this data is accessed for official purposes or otherwise, all these accesses are recorded and can be audited at any time.    

Alongside, initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission are rapidly moving towards the digitisation of the healthcare sector in India, which will help the healthcare industry to create, store, access, share, and analyse records in a more efficient manner. This will also provide the regulatory authorities with the necessary data to take suitable measures to ensure the availability, accessibility and affordability of healthcare in a time-bound way.

As we move beyond 2022 into a deeper digital era, it’s important to be appraised about the security measures that have to be established and maintained in the healthcare setup. The future seems to be pushing forward towards a more secure yet simplified approach to data management and protection with the support of intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces.

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