Safeguarding Patient Information: the Significance of Cybersecurity in the Dental Industry
Why Dental Practices Should Focus on Cybersecurity
Technology in the dental industry has grown exponentially over the last two decades. Simple software for generating billing statements has now developed into robust systems capable of automatic scheduling, patient charting, digital imaging and mass communication. Dental practices take advantage of the technological strides allowing them to generate 3-D images, mill crowns, use 3-D printers and even use AI to assist in diagnosing and treatment planning. We’ve come a long way!
All this new technology has led to increased data that lives on your practice’s computer network. Log in to your practice management software, and you can find a deluge of Protected Health Information (PHI) for all your patients. How safe is that information? Is your practice – and your patients – protected from cybersecurity attacks?
The Value of Patient Information
Your dental practice collects new patient information every day. Practice management software holds medical histories, images, insurance information and personal identification information (PII). Sometimes that includes Social Security numbers, banking and credit card information.
This data storage is convenient for your office. It’s also convenient for cyber criminals.
The healthcare industry is a prime playground for cyberattacks because it possesses a vast amount of highly valuable information. In 2022, 11 breaches of more than 1 million records per incident were reported. There were another 14 breaches that involved more than 500,000 records. (1) Most of these breaches resulted from hacking incidents involving ransomware or attempted extortion.
Not all breaches involve a significant number of records. How many records has your dental office accumulated over the years? A few thousand? The median breach size in 2022 was just 8,800 records, about the size of a dental practice.
What are cybercriminals doing with your patients’ records?
Cybercriminals use patient data for identity theft, fraud and even extortion. They sell PII on the dark web, often disrupting a person’s financial integrity. Some practices have lost access to their data, making it impossible to treat patients and continue daily operations. It’s not uncommon for dental offices to close for weeks at a time after a cybersecurity attack.
As if the loss in operating revenue wasn’t enough, the practice will also face fines and expenses for identity theft monitoring. The average cost of a data breach in the healthcare industry is $183 per record. (2)
Specific Threats to Dental Practices
Many dentists think they won’t be the target of cyber-attacks because they run small businesses. This is precisely why cybercriminals choose dental practices and other small health clinics. They assume because the practice is small, it won’t have the security measures it takes to prevent a breach. Unfortunately, they’re often correct.
You probably spent years building your dental practice and reputation. One data breach is enough to cause financial turmoil and break patient trust. Dentists who have experienced this agree that it’s one of the worst things that can happen to a practice. The financial and social impact is sometimes impossible to overcome.
Legal & Regulatory Considerations
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has strict guidelines regarding the requirements necessary to protect patient records. HIPPA training is required annually.
If a data breach occurs, offices must notify the Office of Civil Rights, which will investigate to determine what information was compromised. They’ll ask for proof that your office has HIPPA documentation and you’ve taken HIPPA and cybersecurity training. HIPPA violations could cost your office up to $1.5 million.
Implementing Cybersecurity in Dental Practices
Most data breaches are due to hacking, theft, human error, unauthorized access or improper security systems. Dental practices can implement cybersecurity measures in three steps to prevent breaches and protect themselves and their patients.
1. Complete a Cybersecurity Audit
During this first step, you’ll work with a cybersecurity company to outline your IT footprint. You’ll be asked questions about your data storage, how it’s protected and how it’s accessed. Your technology partner will also want to know about remote team members or other third parties who might log in to the network. The answers to these questions will provide insight into your current IT security level.
Completing the cybersecurity audit allows you to see where there are gaps in your network security. Using that information, you and your IT team can create a plan to close those gaps and ensure your information is secure.
2. Participate in Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Often, the most vulnerable component of your IT security is you and your employees. Social engineering is an increasing threat that relies on human error. Phishing emails that appear to be sent by someone you know are commonly used to initiate ransomware attacks. The HIPAA Security Rule requires cybersecurity training. These trainings will help mitigate the risk of human error and minimize your risk of a data breach.
3. Conduct Vulnerability Scanning & Penetration Testing
Cybercriminals search your computer network for vulnerabilities and use them to access your data. Vulnerabilities include outdated equipment, weak passwords, unpatched operating systems, open ports and insecure firewalls. A vulnerability scan will alert you to these weaknesses, and your IT team will work with you to correct them.
Penetration testing is a form of ethical hacking that tests your security system. The “white-hat hacker” uses all the same techniques and tools a cybercriminal would to see if your network will resist a threat. As with the vulnerability scans, you should discuss findings from the penetration testing with your IT partner to mitigate future risks.
Comprehensive audits, regular training and thorough vulnerability assessments are more than just best practices—they are imperative for maintaining trust and upholding the industry’s standards.
Want to find out how secure your office is? Contact an Adams Brown technology advisor to learn more about cybersecurity services.