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Digital health records are being used more and more. Are they secure?

Digital health records are increasingly popular among healthcare professionals, with recent data suggesting 76 percent of practitioners use them. 

This was according to a report published by Royal Phillips, a global health technology company which stated “digital health technology is a pivotal pillar in delivering value-based care across the healthcare continuum in India.” This trend gives much cause for optimism, the report said. A majority of the practitioners in India surveyed by the report associate digitisation with improved patient outcomes, quality of care, and practitioner satisfaction. Yet while digital health can be a boon, it is important to ensure that digital records are secure – as news of a recent hack reminded us. 

Last week, it was reported by American security firm FireEye that 68 lakh records had been stolen from an Indian-based healthcare database by hackers. The records contained sensitive information about both patients and doctors, including personally identifiable information. Such information is often sold online – sometimes for as little as US$2,000 or under, according to the FireEye report, which identified China as the main source of the health data hackers. 

“Healthcare data are attractive to cyber-criminals because they contain financial and personal data, can be used for blackmail, and most valuable, are ideal for fraudulent billing,” said a study published earlier this year. As such, the ongoing digitisation of healthcare in India requires vigilance when it comes to security, especially when it comes to individuals’ data. 

In another example of healthcare data security being breached, a technical error led to the records of 12.5 million pregnant women being publically accessible earlier this year, as well as information about practitioners. It took more than three weeks for the data to be erased after the breach was first identified. Fortunately, there were no reports at the time of the data being misused. A past incident in Maharashtra saw more than 35,000 patient records compromised due to a security breach.

These incidents serve as reminders of the necessity of strong cybersecurity systems to protect health data in India. Digital health can have a transformative effect in service delivery – but it must also come with the requisite safeguards to prevent sensitive information from being vulnerable to fraud and abuse. 

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