Industry Expertise · July 20, 2020

Limit Risks and Prevent Cyberattacks With Medical Device Security

Technology has completely changed healthcare. It's given providers access to more data they can use to improve outcomes and empower patients to be more proactive about their health. However, even with all these benefits, medical device security remains an ongoing concern.

Protecting patient health information is critical. A data breach can compromise patients' trust and your organization's reputation. It can also lead to serious financial and legal risks. That's why providers, medical practices and hospitals need to implement risk mitigation strategies to prevent cybercriminals from hacking medical devices.

Current security threats for medical devices

Healthcare organizations are prime targets for hackers because of the amount of personally identifiable information they collect.

Cybercriminals can compromise medical devices in several ways. Defective software can become an entryway into systems and allow access to private information. They may also be able to exploit vulnerabilities in software that hasn't been updated with patches from the manufacturer or isn't protected by strong passwords.

Mobile health devices are particularly vulnerable because hackers can use wireless technology to gain access to patient data. Portable medical devices that are lost or stolen also can lead to security breaches.

To implement effective medical device security, organizations must educate patients and take steps internally to build a stronger cybersecurity program and culture.

Strengthen security through patient education

Patients can play an active role in keeping their information safe, especially if they're using portable medical devices or mobile health apps on their smartphones. As a provider, you and your staff can share information that increases their cyber awareness.

  • Tell patients to register their device: Your staff may not always have time to do this before a patient goes home with a portable medical device, like a remote heart or blood pressure monitor. Provide simple, one-page instructions for how they can register their device at home and who they can contact if they have trouble with the registration process.
  • Remind them about software updates: Device manufacturers regularly update their software. These updates often automatically appear on devices for patients to download, but it never hurts to send them a reminder. You can message them through your organization's secure patient portal, make it a line item in your weekly or monthly patient newsletter or place a small sign at your check-in desk.
  • Provide a cybersecurity do's and don'ts list: Share a short guide with patients on security best practices. This can include tips like not using public Wi-Fi to connect a remote medical device, making sure they log out and keep their device locked after using a healthcare app, and notifying your office if their device isn't functioning properly.

Create a cybersecurity program

Along with educating patients, your organization can follow several best practices to prevent cybercriminals from hacking medical devices.

  • Carefully choose software vendors: The medical devices you give patients should have built-in security features. In addition, your vendor should follow standard security protocols and frameworks. Make sure they also have an updated policy for identifying cyberthreats and getting your systems back up in the event of a breach.
  • Enhance your network security: Install anti-virus software on your office computers, and control which devices can access your secure wireless network. Be sure to regularly change the password to your network, and use a firewall to protect your electronic health records and other systems. Encrypt all health data shared on mobile devices—your device manufacturer or software vendor can help with this.
  • Limit access to patient data: Set up role-based permissions for each employee. This way, only certain employees can access information that's relevant to their role in the patient care process.
  • Implement cybersecurity training and policies: Create a company-wide cybersecurity policy for your employees, and reinforce ongoing training to instill good security habits. Have them regularly change their passwords and avoid leaving computers unattended with patient data easily accessible. Teach them not to open suspicious email attachments or click on links from unknown senders.

By taking these steps, you can protect patient data, reduce your practice's financial risk and continue to leverage technology to deliver even better care.


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