An independent research report recently said the Global Healthcare IT Outsourcing market is expected to generate revenues of around USD 73.1 billion by the end of 2024, growing at a CAGR of around 6.5 per cent, between 2018 and 2024. The increasing dependence on software and technology-based solutions and strategies to optimise the healthcare business, are factors that are expected to accelerate the growth of the healthcare IT outsourcing market during the said period.
Healthcare outsourcing sector needs strong data security
The emergence of IT solutions as a major component in healthcare results from the need to improve the healthcare outcomes and bring down the costs. The healthcare industry has been undergoing tremendous changes with the ever-advancing innovations in computing technologies and their widening use in healthcare.
With digitization, the healthcare outsourcing sector has been transformed in the way it functions, how it processes information and how data is structured in the companies. For instance, the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) has gained prominence with medical records being stored and accessed digitally. This has been complementing the healthcare sector making it quicker, simpler and cheaper to access medical data and improve patient care. Though IT is catalyzing the overall growth of the industry, data security and privacy will always be a key concern for the outsourcing companies as they are responsible for the healthcare providers’ data.
Critical measures for data protection
The companies actively working in the segment of data storage and management have to adopt the newest measures to ensure data protection while meeting the set standards and those mandated by law.
The challenge is bigger for healthcare outsourcing partners as they deal with sensitive medical records to process medical coding and medical billing. Once leaked, it can be a huge risk for all stakeholders. Therefore, with the storage and access to patient information becoming digitized and the use of analytics, security and safety of such information have to be in compliance with the various regulations. The healthcare outsourcing partners need to ensure that there are proper strategies to protect sensitive patient data.
There needs to be a balance between protecting patient privacy and delivering quality patient care. PHI is among the most targeted information by attackers, thus an organisation could start with the initial steps to ensure data protection.
Keeping the possible threats in mind, healthcare providers, along with their outsourcing partners must adhere to the safety regulations imposed by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) of the United States and other regulations such as the recently-adopted GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) of EU. The healthcare industry must adhere to a few of the basic security measures that include solutions for access control, data breach protection, encryption, adoption of secure file-sharing tools and most-importantly network security to prevent data threat from any third party. Also, there should be deployment of data prevention tools to monitor and protect ePHI (Public Health Information).
Internal threat is as real as external
Previously, the concept of cybersecurity emphasized protection against attacks that arose from external threats. However, from recent incidences, it has become evident that threat to an organisation’s security may well lie within. Insider threat refers to the situation when anyone with additional access to an organisation’s protected assets, violate protocols or cause harm intentionally or unintentionally to the organisation in any form. Patient data are also prone to insider threats through negligence. Hence educating employees at the outsourcing firms about data security should be a priority.
Building a culture of ‘security’
Educating the employees on data security methods and the possible data threats is essential for any healthcare outsourcing firm. Training on data security methods should be an essential part of employee training within the organisation, being on par with the advancing technologies.
A recent report titled ‘The Insider Threat Manifesto’ indicates that the healthcare outsourcing sector is experiencing more serious internal threats when compared to the others. Companies should address the problem at the roots and incorporate periodic security awareness training for all its employees. The first line of defense from insider threat is the employees themselves making it critical for them to understand that security policies and procedures exist for a reason and they must be followed stringently to avoid data breaches. Along with the training for internal security awareness, companies can follow additional measures to tighten the security within the organisation.
Restricting access to Data and Applications
Healthcare offshore companies work on sensitive PHI every day and there do exist chances of data being misused or stolen. In order to avoid such mishaps, restricting access to data and certain applications would help in avoiding data breaches within the organisation. Also, secure PINs and passwords can be implemented to restrict access to such sensitive information. Technology features such as tracking and audit trails and features to protect physical security of the data can additionally help and be more HIPAA-compliant.
Monitoring data and employee activities
While securing data is compulsory, strictly monitoring any risky or malicious activity is the need of the hour, to avoid data breaches and unauthorized access. Organisations can use data controls to block certain web uploads, file transfers, unauthorised emails and copying data to external devices. Data encryption also plays a major role in preventing data loss. Also, keeping a log on the information and applications that employees access – when, and from what devices and locations – will help detect and avoid internal threats.
Investment in data security methods
Maintaining and protecting data is crucial for healthcare offshore organisations. While keeping pace with the changing technologies to ensure that the tools and techniques being used are the latest, the organisations need to invest their data security too. Strong data security investments would ensure that the employees are continuously working to keep their networks, connected devices, and all potential end points secure.
Maintaining a culture of ‘security’ at workplace will define the future of companies in healthcare outsourcing industry. While organisations adhere to data security methods and are adopting new technologies to ensure data protection, regular risk assessment in the organisation along with continuous employee training would help in identifying the vulnerabilities in the healthcare industry’s security.