In recent years, a number of medical technologies that mine our bodies for data and insights have emerged. From wearables to remote monitoring devices, we’ve never been able to understand so much about our physical health in so little time. As machine learning and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies advance in the healthcare industry, this data will only become more plentiful and powerful.
We’re already seeing the results AI can bring about in clinical practice, especially through developments in cancer diagnostics and precision medicine. But, as the adage goes, nothing in life is free. In order to draw accurate and effective conclusions, machine learning devices require massive amounts of patient data. If the companies developing these technologies and the organizations using them aren’t careful, they could have severe repercussions on our privacy.
Recognizing this slippery slope, some are on a mission to keep patient data safe from leaks, theft, and abuse. In this post, we share some of the major security concerns in the industry, the companies addressing them, and their strategies for navigating this heavily regulated landscape.
Cybersecurity risks in the healthcare industry
While evolving technologies are making patient privacy an even bigger priority in the healthcare industry, it’s not just a concern of the future. Inadequate cybersecurity has already impacted numerous hospitals, companies, insurers, and patients. Between 2009 and 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was notified of 3,705 data breaches involving 500 records or more—for a grand total of over 250 million compromised health records.
Because personal health information can’t change, unlike social security or credit card numbers, it’s more valuable to malicious actors. As such, it’s a popular target in cyber attacks. Unfortunately, the challenge of protecting it is extremely complex. Electronic health records (EHRs), medical devices, systems, and servers are all vulnerable to attack, as are healthcare providers, companies, and contractors.
In one particularly damaging breach at the American Medical Collection Agency (AMCA), a billing provider for clinical testing labs across the country, 21 million Americans had personal health information exposed or compromised. Most patients didn’t know the AMCA even had access to their data. Clearly, the security needs of the industry go beyond any one silo. Successfully protecting patient data will require a sweeping range of smart, innovative strategies.
Companies taking on the patient privacy hydra
Fortunately, a number of companies have sprouted up to address these growing concerns in healthcare. One popular approach is to make medical devices, particularly the ones that rely on machine learning, less vulnerable. Others are using blockchain to make data storage more secure and accurate.
- Trustonic: Trustonic helps its partners keep data secure by embedding cybersecurity technology into smart devices. While they work with a variety of industries, they’re currently collaborating with diagnostic device manufacturer Optolane to protect patient data gathered by the device.
- MedCrypt: MedCrypt specializes in security solutions for medical devices. Like Trustonic, they work with device manufacturers to embed cybersecurity features into their products before going to market.
- Medigate: Another cybersecurity company, Medigate has taken a slightly different approach. Rather than focusing on individual devices, the company has built a device and protocol database that can monitor all medical devices within a facility for threats.
- Hacera: Hacera collaborated with IBM and other industry leaders to create MiPasa, a verifiable data-sharing platform that helped governments and researchers confirm and track COVID-19 infections while keeping patient data unidentifiable.
- Vital Chain: Through blockchain technology, Vital Chain makes patient data more secure and verifiable.
MarketSmiths Case Study
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Changemakers face challenges in a heavily regulated industry
Healthcare is, of course, an extremely regulated industry. Perhaps the most well-known regulation is the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which requires healthcare providers to enact certain protections on patient data and limit the use and disclosure of this sensitive information. Breaches of this information could result in fines and penalties, incentivizing healthcare providers and medical technology manufacturers to implement best security practices.
Compliance laws are an obvious pain point data protection providers can address in their marketing—and most already have. MedCrypt notes on their website that they’re helping manufacturers meet FDA regulatory guidance and, in turn, those devices will be easier to market to healthcare providers.
While many actors in the healthcare data protection space have used compliance to sell to device manufacturers, some of the blockchain companies are addressing more of the broad ethical concerns of using identifiable patient data for research purposes. They also bring an extra security benefit. While it’s difficult to tell what information is stolen or altered when firewalls are breached, blockchain technology clearly tracks any unauthorized alterations or changes to patient information.
Prioritizing security amid uncertainty
The current moment is an uncertain one for the healthcare industry. COVID-19 has brought a number of dramatic transformations to a sector that’s typically slow to change, but as we embrace recent developments and look toward future ones, it’s important to consider the associated privacy concerns. For companies and providers hoping to use this technology responsibly, being proactive is key. These developments will require advanced planning for how data is used and protected.
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