Cybersecurity in Healthcare: How Risky Is Telehealth?

The medical field has seen some remarkable advances in the past few years. As hospitals keep adopting new tech, though, it raises some questions about cybersecurity in healthcare. Telehealth, which has risen in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, seems particularly concerning.

Technologies like telehealth present various benefits to both doctors and patients. Some patients can save up to $1,500 per visit when they use virtual hospital visits instead of going to the emergency room. These digital platforms can also get them faster access to the care they need.

People who wouldn’t otherwise seek medical attention because of inconvenience or expense can use telehealth instead. Doctors can use these virtual screenings to help determine an early diagnosis before further tests. Despite these advantages, some people worry about the cybersecurity aspect of these services.

A sick woman sits in front of her laptop and uses telehealth technology and cybersecurity in healthcare.

Cybersecurity Risks of Telehealth

Medical visits involve discussing lots of sensitive information, so putting that data online presents a risk. If someone hacked into a telehealth system, they could access a wealth of valuable data. If patients aren’t sure of their privacy, they may avoid these potentially lifesaving platforms.

With sensitive data like health information, the threat of ransomware is a leading concern. Hackers could infiltrate the system, encrypt or steal this data, then demand a ransom from patients or healthcare organizations. Targets would have to choose between breached privacy and possible financial ruin.

These risks are prevalent in any online service, but the sensitivity of medical information intensifies them. There’s also a lack of sufficient regulations over these platforms right now, so they may not ensure user protection. Given the uncertainty around the cybersecurity of these apps, their sudden uptick in adoption is concerning.

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How Prominent Are Cyberattacks in Healthcare?

These risks aren’t just hypothetical, either, as the medical industry is a favorite target for cybercriminals. In the first half of 2018 alone, there were 176 large-scale data breaches among U.S. medical organizations. As a whole, cybersecurity in healthcare is in dire need of improvement.

Since 2016, 74% of ransomware attacks in healthcare have targeted hospitals, with only 5% targeting IT vendors. By that metric, it seems services like telehealth aren’t as vulnerable as other areas in the industry. Still, as telehealth plays a more prominent role in medicine, cybercriminals could start targeting it more frequently.

Telehealth adoption rates have skyrocketed during the pandemic as patients sought medical attention while social distancing. Cybercrime rates have also taken off, with ransomware, in particular, seeing a meteoric rise this year. This simultaneous growth could mean that telehealth services are at a more considerable risk than ever.

a female doctor uses her laptop to check her cybersecurity in her healthcare technology

Using Telehealth Safely

As threatening as this situation may seem, ensuring reliable cybersecurity in healthcare is not impossible. Telehealth vendors and hospitals will need to take cybersecurity more seriously, but they can safely implement these services. First, end-to-end encryption should become a standard practice for all parties involved in telehealth.

Healthcare organizations need to be careful about their third parties, requiring all partners to ensure data protection. No hospital or doctor should adopt a telehealth system until its creators can verify that it’s secure. Users can further ensure their privacy by adopting some cybersecurity best practices while using these services.

Anyone using a telehealth app, both patients and doctors, should use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. App developers may even consider requiring multi-factor authentication to make sure that users stay as safe as possible. Since 54% of internet users reuse five or fewer passwords, requiring this step may be necessary.

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Finally, healthcare organizations should continually reevaluate their cybersecurity. Cyber risks are always evolving, so hospitals need to adapt with them to keep patient data safe. Now that digital tech plays a bigger role in medicine, hospitals may want to hire permanent cybersecurity staff.

Tech Adoption and Cybersecurity Are Inseparable

Healthcare providers shouldn’t be scared of implementing technology like telehealth. At the same time, cybersecurity in healthcare demands more attention as medical organizations keep adopting new tech. Digital services come with inherent risks, but if companies account for these hazards, they can upgrade safely.

Tools like telehealth won’t be as helpful as they can be without thorough cybersecurity. If healthcare organizations want to take full advantage of these services, they need to ensure their security. With better medical security measures, this tech could revolutionize the industry.

Shannon Flynn

Shannon Flynn is a technology writer and Managing Editor at ReHack.com. She's written for sites such as Finovate, Innovation & Tech Today, Smart City Hub, and more. Shannon aims to write articles that help businesses and organizations mitigate cybersecurity threats to keep at-risk individuals safe.