5 Best Practices for Data Collection and Ethics in Healthcare


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This post is a guest contribution from Dean Chester, Founder of Cool Tech Zone.

Today’s world is rife with data safety violations. Data breaches, ransomware attacks, identity theft—all these and more change our lives and endanger our privacy and well-being. This is especially true for medical data, because if malicious parties get access to it, human lives and health could be at risk. Scammers may also attempt to take advantage of current events to disrupt the data collection process, especially for healthcare corporations.
Medical facilities have more than just a high number of cyberattacks to handle, though. These days, the general public has a much better understanding of the concepts of data security. The average patient may know what a VPN is, what passwords not to use, and other concepts related to data privacy. Because people have more knowledge on data security, they often have higher standards for data protection. Medical facilities need to make a strong effort to adhere to these standards.
Hospitals and other medical facilities need medical data in order to serve patients. So how can these facilities improve the security of their patients’ private data? In this blog, you’ll learn five best practices that are aimed precisely at that mission.

1. Encrypt sensitive data

One of the main causes of data breaches is the ease with which patient data can be obtained by hackers. Several factors, including employee carelessness, can contribute to these errors. But the most notable of these factors, and arguably the one that is the easiest to fix, is the lack of encryption.
When a hacker gets into a system, they are past the first level of defense. If it’s the only defensive layer, the facility in question is at a very real risk of losing patients’ private information to criminals.
In order to prevent hackers from accessing your data, it’s crucial to encrypt all sensitive health and business information in your medical facility’s system. When data is encrypted, any perpetrator who manages to break in is going to find only the enciphered files which they will not be able to leverage if the encryption is strong enough. The benefit of using FormAssembly for your data collection is that all plan levels include encryption at rest.

2. Choose your solutions wisely

Many healthcare providers have to rely on third parties for data collection or analysis. It’s understandable, because a certain level of technical equipment and proficiency is required to perform these tasks. However, it creates a considerable additional risk to the safety of patient data.
To give an example, 10 out of the 25 largest healthcare data breaches that occurred from 2009 to 2018 happened to entities classified as “business associates,” according to the HIPAA Journal. These breaches included healthcare records of millions of individuals that have now been exposed to criminals because of improper security measures and negligence.
A medical facility has no way to ensure that the personal data of its patients will be fully safe with a business partner. Unfortunately, data breaches don’t only affect small and medium-sized companies.
When even tech giants fail at data protection, the only conclusion we can come to is that there is no safe option here other than companies that have already proven their reliability. The best decision, perhaps, is to handle data analytics internally with a trusted data platform.

3. Keep ethics top of mind

Surely, providing healthcare is a business just like any other. However, when dealing with data as personal as health records, one must pay more attention to ethics.
Ethical violations of patients’ personal data are surprisingly common. For example, some employees of medical facilities have been found guilty of illegally accessing celebrities’ health records. It’s necessary to remember that this is unacceptable both in terms of ethics and legality. These actions can result in damage to the organization’s reputation, fines, and even imprisonment for the guilty parties.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that it’s unethical to share patients’ data files with advertising agencies. Even if you are fully confident in an agency’s security process, there is always a chance that the data will travel further and end up in possession of a less-reliable party.

4. Back-up vital information regularly


Ransomware attacks are one of the primary threats to cybersecurity. During a ransomware attack, hackers infect a victim’s network or device with a type of malware that blocks the legitimate owner’s access to the data stored in that network. To remove the block, the owner must pay a ransom to the criminals, which does not always guarantee the end of the situation.

What makes these attacks especially dangerous to healthcare facilities is that the data they use is often time-sensitive. Data on preexisting conditions, allergies, and other health information is extremely important for healthcare providers to have when taking care of patients. If this data is locked by a hacker, medical providers are in a dire situation in which paying ransom is the only viable option for getting it back.

Moreover, many hospitals today make heavy use of internet-connected medical devices that can also become inaccessible in a ransomware attack.

This is why it’s necessary to back up data regularly and store these backups on devices that have no internet connection. Then, even if an attack does occur, the facility will be able to continue its operations.

5. Continuously raise cybersecurity awareness

Any hospital’s cybersecurity is only as good as its employees’ compliance with rules and best practices. You may think of everything in advance and develop the most perfect data security practices the world has ever seen, but if your employees do not pay enough attention to them, your facility is still in great danger.

With this in mind, every medical facility should have an employee cyber awareness policy in place. Raising awareness is considered to be a data security trend in 2020, so there is really no excuse to ignore it.

By following these best practices, your healthcare organization will be better equipped to protect itself against a costly data breach.

Learn more about FormAssembly’s HIPAA compliant web forms and data collection.

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