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Medical Coding News Archives

Medical record hacking increases at an astronomical rate

June 13, 2017:

More than two years ago, Optum360 published an article that made this statement:

    Hackers have found a lucrative target that promises only to grow with time—health care records. The scale of the data stolen in just the first four months of 2015 dwarfs previous years’ totals, indicating that this problem is going to get much worse before the industry can get a handle on it. – Optum360 Coding Central article, May 29, 2015

Two years later, that statement elicits widespread agreement. According to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), protected health information (PHI) breaches affected more than 113 million individuals in 2015. From 2011 to 2014, hacking incidents impacted less than 4 million people.

Such numbers are expected to increase as Internet-connected medical devices are more frequently used for remote patient monitoring and more-advanced care. By 2024, experts predict every U.S. citizen will have had their health care data compromised if cybercrimes continue at their current pace.

Take the example of St. Jude Medical heart implants. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation after it was determined the patient’s radio-frequency enabled implant could be hacked. The FDA used the incident as one reason cybersecurity was named one of the top 10 regulatory science priorities for 2017.

The greatest concern is around medical devices that store and transmit information. However, medical coding professionals—and their employers—must remain vigilant to outside attacks and report breaches as they happen. HHS issued regulations in 2009 that require providers, health plans and other entities covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify individuals when health information is breached.

The provisions are part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The regulations require providers and other HIPAA-covered entities to “promptly notify affected individuals of a breach.” This includes the HHS Secretary and the media in cases where the breach affects more than 500 individuals.

Danger also lurks for hospitals and other organizations that employ remote coders. Nearly a decade ago, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) outlined protocols and procedures to secure and protect PHI in remote settings: restrict remote coding to controlled virtual networks; maintain encryption, virus protection and password management on portable and home devices; require specialized remove access user agreements outlining obligation to adhere to PHI protection safeguards.

AHIMA’s cyber security recommendations from 2007 are still relevant today. As technology advances—and the amount of medical information skyrockets—health care organizations need to better protect medical records from attacks. Coders can play their part by staying up-to-date on compliance mandates, undergoing training on security systems and remaining vigilant for intrusions.


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