Healthcare IT requires balance of data availability and security
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Healthcare is one of the most technology-rich and dependent sectors in the world. In virtually every aspect of medical practice, technology plays a vital role. From antibiotics to x-rays to neurosurgery, virtually the whole of modern medicine would be impossible without highly developed and specialized technologies.
However, it could easily be argued that for all of the technological tools available to healthcare providers, it is information technology which is the most critical. Without individual patients' medical histories, disease trends, test results and a host of other forms of data, physicians, nurses and others would simply be unable to provide healthcare successfully.
This makes the sharing of healthcare data essential for the industry. However, this information is also extremely sensitive, which means that healthcare organizations must be very careful when sending and receiving such data.
A difficult issue
This is a delicate balance to strike, and one which many institutions miss, as numerous events have demonstrated. In the past year, millions of health records have been exposed in dozens of separate incidents, causing a wide range of potential problems for those affected. In addition to the sheer violation of privacy, the exposure of health records puts individuals at risk of experiencing identity theft or fraud.
The balance between security and data availability is likely to become increasingly critical in the near future, as electronic health records (EHRs) become a standard feature of hospitals and private practices. Additionally, many healthcare organizations are beginning to leverage bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies to make healthcare information more accessible to essential personnel. While this may help physicians make more informed decisions, though, it also raises the risk of a device containing sensitive medical data being lost or stolen.
To combat this risk without sacrificing the advantages offered by new data-enabling technology, healthcare organizations should invest in secure file transfer solutions. With these tools, firms can ensure that all electronic healthcare data is encrypted at all times. This way, even if files end up in unauthorized hands, the information contained will remain inaccessible.
However, not all secure file transfer tools are equally viable. Organizations must be careful to only pursue solutions that can be easily inserted into physicians' daily workflows. If the encryption or other technology requires too much effort, overburdened staff will likely ignore the data-protection resources at their disposal. Only an unobtrusive security solution will be fully adopted and, therefore, fully effective.