What is a Breach in Healthcare? 5 Signs To Watch Out For

What is a breach in healthcare? In today's digital age, this question is vital for everyone involved in healthcare. 

As medical records and patient data go digital, understanding these breaches is crucial. But what exactly counts as a breach? How are healthcare systems breached in the first place? And what are indicators that a breach has occurred?

Recognizing the early signs of such breaches can help prevent them, protecting both patients and providers. But first, it’s important to understand what kinds of incidents count as a healthcare breach.

Why? Because these incidents affect not just the privacy of patients but also the trust they place in healthcare systems. 

What Constitutes a Data Breach in Healthcare?

Not every data incident counts as a data breach. That’s what makes the answer deceptively tricky.

Think of it this way: We all know what a forest fire is. But at what point does a “normal” fire turn into a forest fire? What’s the tipping point between a tree – or a few trees – being on fire and then a blaze being classified as a forest fire?

Similarly, when we answer “what is a data breach in healthcare,” we’re looking for that singular tipping point.

A data breach in healthcare is a specific kind of incident that compromises patient privacy. What sets this apart from other incidents is that an unauthorized person has access to confidential patient information. In other words, something is only considered a “data breach” if an unauthorized party accesses patient data. 

On the other hand, if data is mishandled but not exposed to an unauthorized person, then it is not considered a data breach.

Examples of a data breach in healthcare include, but are not limited to:

  • A hacker gaining entry into a provider's electronic health record system.
  • An employee looking at a patient's records without any work-related reason.
  • Sharing patient information without consent or necessity. 
  • Sending a patient's health records to the wrong person or organization.
  • Leaving printed patient information in a public area.

It’s important to note that a security breach in healthcare is different from a “data incident.”

“Data incident” is a broader term that includes any security event that could potentially compromise patient data. However, if there's no evidence that the data was actually accessed or used improperly, it's considered an incident, not a breach. 

Examples of a data incident include, but are not limited to:

  • A laptop containing health records is stolen. However, the laptop is recovered before any logs or data can be accessed. 
  • An employee accidentally emails PHI to themselves, but reports the incident before any harm is done.

The key to recognizing privacy breaches in healthcare is to determine whether unauthorized parties have accessed patient information.

It's also important to note how healthcare data breaches are not just another IT problem. 

They are concerning because of the nature of the sensitive health information involved. Unlike a system outage, which affects accessibility, or a software bug, which might affect functionality, a data breach has direct implications for patient privacy and trust.

So, what are data breaches in healthcare? It’s when an unauthorized person accesses protected health information (PHI). Investing in robust healthcare data management is key to preventing such breaches.

Why Is Healthcare A Prime Target for Hackers and Cyber Attacks?

If we look into why the healthcare sector is targeted in data breaches, it's because of the valuable patient information they have. This information can include everything from names and addresses to more sensitive details like health history.

Our healthcare data breach case study reveals that stolen medical files are more valuable than another other type of file. Specifically, according to healthcare security statistics, the price of a patient file on the black market is $250 per file. That’s a whopping 46 times more valuable than stolen credit cards, which are valued at $5.40.

So, what is the main cause of healthcare data breaches? It's typically old computer systems and legacy programs that need to be updated. While it’s impossible to be entirely breach-proof, investing in a modern, no-code internal app can exponentially reduce your risk. 

what is a healthcare data breach
Healthcare data is a jackpot for hackers, brimming with invaluable patient information. A HIPAA-compliant, no-code tool like Blaze can be your digital shield, effortlessly fortifying your data defenses.

What Are Common Indicators of a Breach in Healthcare? 

Kee­ping patient data safe is key. Be­ on the lookout for certain signs that could hint at a data leak. He­re's what to watch for:

  1. Too many failed login tries: It might me­an someone is attempting to access data they shouldn't see.
  2. Data is being sent to parties without reason: It could be he­alth details being transferre­d wrongfully.
  3. Unusual edits are being made in patient records:It may mean someone's me­ssing with confidential health details.
  4. System/software alerts. It's typically the­ first hint of a potential data leak.
  5. Sudden, odd tweaks in system setup: It could suggest an outside­r is trying to sneak in and cover their tracks.

If you find these issues, you may be the victim of a breach in healthcare. If so, you have­ to alert those affecte­d. A report on the leak ne­eds to be drawn up, outlining what happene­d. If the data leak exte­nds to 500 or more people, it ne­eds an inside response­, and officials and the public have to be notifie­d.

Watching for these­ signs can catch healthcare data leaks e­arly. It lets healthcare folk move­ fast to lock down patient records and lesse­n harm to those affected. Spotting the­ symptoms in time is vital to keeping he­althcare data secure.

Actionable Steps to Monitor and Prevent Data Breaches

Healthcare­ organizations must fortify their data security against growing cyber thre­ats. Here are some­ practical steps they should consider:

  • Update­ and Patch Regularly: Get ahead of hacke­rs. Ensure you are up-to-date with se­curity patches.
  • Security Training: Give staff the­ skills needed to ide­ntify and handle security threats with re­gular training.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA gives extra se­curity, challenging unauthorized access. The two most popular types are 2FA and SSO. 
  • Audits: Conduct re­gular audits and test for vulnerabilities.
  • Compliant Tools: Use­ AI tools, like Blaze, a HIPAA compliant app builder, to build your systems securely.

The­se steps help he­althcare providers comply with the HIPAA bre­ach notification rule. This rule states that affe­cted individuals, the Departme­nt of Health and Human Services (HHS), and in ce­rtain situations, the media, must be notifie­d of a breach if it affects many people­.

Handling health care data effe­ctively is essential for me­eting legal obligations and for maintaining patient trust and the­ safety of health insurance de­tails. Quick notification to affected parties is vital whe­n a breach happens. In some instance­s, sending a large, or class mail, might be re­quired.

It's not just rules-following. It's about a future­ where medical file­s are safer, easie­r to manage. That's comforting for doctors and patients. 

Want bette­r data protection? Blaze gives a no-cost consult. Se­e how our HIPAA-compliant app builder can stre­ngthen your data security. Contact us now to make sure­ your information is safe in the future.