It’s often said that health is wealth. Being wealthy doesn’t matter much if you aren’t also healthy; you won’t enjoy life as much as someone who feels great in both mind and body. In fact, over the years, you’ll end up paying more for healthcare-related expenses. Poor health can end up draining your wealth.
But recently, this proverb has taken on an added layer of meaning. Hackers target hospitals and healthcare organizations with increasing frequency; the black market is dealing heavily in stolen patient records. How does health-related information translate to digital wealth, and what can be done to protect your data?
Health in the digital age
It’s no secret that technology provides vital assistance in the medical realm. Precision equipment provides scans to aid in diagnosis and procedures for various conditions. But the role of digital technology in facilitating healthcare has been growing over the years.
This can come in the form of convenience. For instance, the website of dentist Rod W. Gore, DDS, allows patients to upload an image of an area of concern; the team then creates a video with personalized recommendations. Other practitioners have been turning to telemedicine software. In the age of the pandemic, these online solutions are vital to enabling continued consultation and medical assistance.
However, there is a much bigger behind-the-scenes role that digital technology plays in healthcare. Medical providers need to communicate with insurance companies and financial institutions to process payment transactions, for example. Researchers conducting studies on a particular disease might need access to a database where they can gather information on the relevant segment of the population.
In today’s world, storing medical records in a traditional paper-based filing system is unacceptable for these purposes. Records need to be encoded and digitized to facilitate access by the relevant parties.
Of course, your data isn’t being stored without security measures. In theory, only parties with a legitimate interest should be able to access this information. Unfortunately, information-sharing in the digital realm can be prone to human error or system vulnerabilities, which determined hackers can exploit.
The risks to your data
Why would hackers take an interest in your medical records? The value of information lies in its potential application. When you give your data to a hospital, you’re sharing a lot of specific personal information. You disclose your complete name, address, billing information, and family and personal medical history. Any tests performed will generate additional data, which is then appended to your records.
All of this information about you is stored in one place, along with several other users’ records. These centralized databases become lucrative targets. And if a hacker gains access, they can use the data in a variety of ways. The most basic would be credit fraud. But they can also use medical information to file fraudulent insurance claims or illegally purchase restricted drugs or medical equipment.
Blockchain as an emerging solution
The potential solution to this thorny issue is also technology-based but originates from the realm of finance. After early skepticism and resistance, the digital currency known as bitcoin has been slowly gaining acceptance among financial institutions.
The secret to bitcoin’s success comes from its underlying backbone of secure transactions, a code known as ‘blockchain.’ This technology doesn’t just protect data with encryption; hackers can decipher that. Its value lies in adding a layer of trust through a ‘hash’ created with each transaction, building up an immutable ledger or trail of audit. This acts as a digital wax seal, verifying that the data is legitimate and hasn’t been tampered with.
By adding this layer of security, blockchain technology allows data to be distributed across networks on a ‘need to know’ basis. There is no central database required; the middleman is removed from digital transactions. It effectively takes away the hackers’ target.
Bitcoin was launched in 2009, but it didn’t gain traction in finance until at least four years later. And even though this technology might be the future of data security in healthcare, it could likewise face delays in implementation. Healthcare organizations must overhaul outdated systems, which takes time and can prove costly.
We might not yet be in the age of large-scale, entirely trustworthy healthcare record sharing. But more startups and organizations are starting to adopt blockchain as a solution. Until it’s widely implemented, take every reasonable precaution when sharing your data. And when you deal with providers, insurance, and payment platforms, ask about how they are using and protecting your records.