How Safe Is Your Health Care Data?

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

How safe if your health care data? If you don't know the answer to that question, you really should find out. Since the rise of COVID19, health care cyber-attacks are up over 400%. In only 8 months, more than 5.6 million patient records have been breached by hackers. (Source: Hackers are targeting the health care industry because it's easy and profitable. Hackers like it because:

1) Your healthcare data is immutable. It cannot merely be changed like a bank account or credit card number.

2) Medical professionals are just that, medical professionals, not cybersecurity professions.

Maybe you're thinking, "So what? They know I have high blood pressure, big deal." Unfortunately, health care data typically includes all your personal information, often including your social security number, insurance number, prescriptions, and detailed health history. Once hackers get a hold of your Personal Health Information (PHI), a category protected by HIPAA, they have very creative ways of using it. The most common are:

1) Identity theft

2) Obtain fraudulent medical care or prescriptions

3) Coercion or blackmail based on a diagnosis or health history

4) Sell your personal data on the dark web

5) Ransom your data back to you or the health care provider

What happens if you go to the hospital, and they ask how's your Diabetes doing, but you don't have Diabetes? Or if they review your medications, and prescriptions are showing up that you don't recognize? These records are even more challenging to fix than credit records.

Do take heart; however, you are not powerless to help protect your medical records. Here are some suggestions that you can do to protect yourself:

1) Always review any mail or correspondence from your insurance company, hospitals, doctors, etc.

2) Shred or securely dispose of any health care documents when you are done with them.

3) Speak up! When asked for your Social Security (SSN) or Insurance numbers, don't be afraid to ask if they really need it.

4) If you provide information like your SSN, take note of how they handle it. Is it written on a piece of paper on someone's desk for all to see, or is it typed into an electronic device where only the last 4 digits are visible?

5) Don't be afraid to ask your health care providers how they protect your medical data.

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Contributed by Jeff, Library Unicorn Technical Support