Healthcare Data Security – Striking a Balance Between Innovation and Protection


When it comes to Healthcare Data Security, striking a balance between innovation and protection is essential. Yet, maintaining equilibrium between these two objectives remains a persistent challenge for healthcare organisations. In this article, our Chief Technology Officer for Cyber Security, Pete Moorhead, uses his extensive expertise in the healthcare sector to summarise 5 critical considerations surrounding healthcare data security.


These include:


  1. Healthcare Data Security and Interoperability
  2. Secure Patient Data Exchange
  3. Enhancing Healthcare Data Control: The Role of Least Privilege Access
  4. Putting Patients in Control with Blockchain
  5. Securing Healthcare Data on Medical Devices





1. Healthcare Data Security and Interoperability


Data interoperability is a critical pillar of efficient digital healthcare. However, the challenge of integrating disparate legacy systems across various sectors of the health and social care realm presents a significant hurdle. A recent UK government report underscored that collected data often remains confined to its point of origin, preventing the seamless delivery of integrated care. Furthermore, within the same report the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, reveals that inadequate communication among various systems can lead to instances where patients receive less than optimal care.


Imagine a patient urgently requiring transfer from a hospital to a specialised facility. Swift access to real-time patient data ensures streamlined coordination, prompt diagnosis, and timely treatment.


Beyond the technical and logistical complexities of data interoperability lie considerations of patient consent. With enhanced interoperability among healthcare platforms, the risk of data circulating online without explicit consent increases.


To ensure compliance, it is essential to follow the guidance provided by entities like the UK’s Cyber Essentials and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Moreover, empowering individuals with a comprehensive grasp of their data’s journey enhances their ability to make well-informed decisions about data sharing and consent.



2. Secure Patient Data Exchange


In the UK, a unique patient ID reference number plays a pivotal role in ensuring the safe exchange of data across different healthcare establishments. An additional dimension of privacy and safeguarding is achieved through the anonymisation of data during transfer.


Strengthening healthcare data security, cyber security measures such as defence-in-depth strategies and firewalls, coupled with the implementation of healthcare data encryption, provide further levels of protection.


At Telefónica Tech, we partner closely with major hospital trusts to strengthen their IT infrastructure, including securing their Electronic Patient Records. Given the expanding scope of patient data sharing across various healthcare entities, the ongoing focus on healthcare data security to safeguard against potential breaches is increasingly important. And as patient information flows even more widely – potentially, even outside of national boundaries – ensuring the integrity of data takes on even greater significance.



3. Enhancing Healthcare Data Control: The Role of Least Privilege Access


There is no doubt sharing patient data within healthcare and social care sectors can greatly enhance the quality of care provided. In the Patient Health Records: Access, sharing and confidentiality government report, Age UK highlighted how smoother sharing of information among professionals could benefit those they assist, streamlining services and avoiding reliance solely on patients for accurate details.


Yet widening data recipients also heightens breach risks. To counter this, adopting the principle of least privilege access is crucial. This approach limits individual access to certain software, systems, and apps, reducing unauthorised network entry.


When considering the use of AI and machine learning, this principle ensures processing only necessary data and minimising sensitive data exposure. As UK healthcare faces frequent data breach risks, the principle of least privilege stands as a crucial defence against unchecked data access.



4. Putting Patients in Control with Blockchain


Blockchain technology offers a promising solution to empower patients to control their health data. Blockchain’s secure, efficient, and transparent features make it an attractive option for many healthcare solutions.


Looking ahead to the not-too-distant future, by tokenizing healthcare data, patients could decide what information to share and even begin to monetise passive income from data requests.


This innovative approach puts patients in charge of their data while ensuring data security and privacy.  But in my opinion, while this approach offers greater control, it also comes with significant risks. For example, at this stage, there is no clear answer to what happens if the token is lost, how to replace it, or how to ensure its ownership.  Losing their “keys” for health records would result in patients losing their medical history.



5. Securing Healthcare Data on Medical Devices


The advancement of UK healthcare rests on the widespread sharing of patient data but striking the right balance between data accessibility and security is a continuous balancing act.


This challenge becomes even greater when sharing data not only between different healthcare systems but also between interconnected medical devices. In my experience, it is not uncommon for high-value assets like MRI scanners to be shipped with outdated software, exposing them to known security risks.


All these factors mean that taking a holistic approach to healthcare data security is vital. The continuous search for improved methods to ensure the safety of patient information through effective cyber security measures, at every touch point is a critical priority.



Healthcare Data Security in Action



During my time working with a leading NHS trust, we worked closely with their senior leaders to prioritise the security of patient data. To prevent unauthorised data sharing, we implemented a robust solution—Data Monitoring and Data Loss Prevention (DLP).


This proactive approach blocked any attempts to send patient records from NHS email to non-approved platforms, fortifying their digital defence. This significantly, enhanced their data protection, reduced risks, and helped them align with GDPR standards for patient confidentiality.



Striking the Right Balance


As healthcare moves into an increasingly tech-driven era, mastering the balance between innovation and data privacy will be an ongoing challenge. Empowering patients with data knowledge will be key while standing guard against ongoing cyber threats is non-negotiable. By uniting patient education and strong data security, healthcare is looking towards a future where interoperability and confidentiality go hand in hand.





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