How to Protect Your Health Data

Imagine going to the doctor for a routine check-up and later finding out that your personal health information could be floating around on the internet. Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming all too common. As healthcare systems increasingly rely on digital technologies, the security of our most sensitive data is under constant threat. This article will explore the growing prevalence of health data breaches, pinpoint the weaknesses within our current healthcare data systems, and offer insights into how we can better protect our personal information from falling into the wrong hands.

Health Data Hacking on the Rise

Recent reports and incidents have highlighted a disturbing rise in health data breaches, underscoring the allure of medical records to cyber-criminals. Health data is particularly valuable because it contains detailed personal and financial information that can be exploited for fraudulent billing, identity theft, and even blackmail. 

A recent incident involved UnitedHealth's Change Healthcare, where a substantial proportion of American health data was compromised due to a ransomware attack. The hacking group responsible threatened to sell the stolen data unless a ransom was paid, illustrating the severe consequences of such breaches. UnitedHealth reported that the attack has cost it more than $870 million in losses. UnitedHealth CEO Andrew Witty commented that the incident was “an attack on the U.S. health system designed to create maximum damage."

The frequency and sophistication of these attacks are increasing as cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in healthcare systems. For instance, ransomware gangs have been targeting healthcare institutions with devastating effectiveness, causing extensive operational disruptions and compromising sensitive patient data. This growing trend highlights an urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect health data from malicious actors who are continuously refining their attack methodologies.

Why Healthcare Data is Vulnerable

The vulnerability of healthcare data stems largely from the digital transformation of the industry. The shift towards electronic health records, cloud computing, and connected medical devices has expanded the attack surface for cybercriminals. Healthcare data systems are inherently complex due to the need for rapid access and sharing among various stakeholders, including doctors, insurance companies, and pharmacies. This complexity is compounded by the use of mobile devices and the integration of devices like wearable health monitors.

“Healthcare is an attractive target for cybercrime for two fundamental reasons: it is a rich source of valuable data, and its defenses are weak,” explained researchers Lynne Coventry and Dawn Branley in a paper published in Maturitas. Many healthcare providers lack the resources and expertise to manage sophisticated digital defenses, making them prime targets for cyber-attacks. 

Adding to the issue is the vast amount of data available from medical targets: a simple phishing email can grant attackers access to an entire network of sensitive data. Medical data is surprisingly valuable to hackers, too: “Medical information can be worth ten times more than credit card numbers on the deep web,” explained Jean-Frederic Karcher, the head of security at communications provider Maintel, to The Independent. “Fraudsters can use this data to create fake IDs to buy medical equipment or drugs, or combine a patient number with a false provider number and file fictional claims with insurers.” It also holds significant personal value, increasing the potential for severe personal and institutional harm.

What Are the Risks of A Health Data Breach?

A health data breach can have dire consequences for individuals, extending far beyond the initial unauthorized access. The risks are multifaceted: from identity theft, where thieves use stolen data to open fraudulent accounts, to medical identity theft, which could lead to incorrect medical treatment or fraudulent medical claims. Victims might suffer both financially and physically, grappling with the ramifications of unauthorized medical actions taken in their names.

Moreover, a breach can trigger significant emotional distress as sensitive health issues become public, potentially leading to stigma or personal embarrassment. Compromised data integrity could also endanger patient safety, prompting incorrect medical decisions based on altered or falsified health records. The breach not only disrupts the lives of individuals but also undermines trust in healthcare systems, highlighting the necessity of stringent security measures.

How to Protect Your Health Data

Health data security is a critical issue as our medical and personal information increasingly moves online. Protecting this data requires a proactive and knowledgeable approach, Whether through healthcare providers, online health portals, or mobile health apps. Below, find actionable steps to safeguard your health information effectively.

Ensure Provider Compliance and Security Measures

  1. Verify Security Protocols: Always check that your healthcare provider implements robust security measures. This can include encryption, secure data storage practices, and regular security training for their staff.
  2. Inquire About Compliance: Ask your provider about their compliance with health data protection regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in the U.S. or GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe.
  3. Request Audit Information: Find out if your healthcare provider conducts regular security audits. If they do, ask for summaries of these audits to understand how they protect patient information.

Strengthen Personal Security Practices

  1. Use Strong Passwords: Create strong, unique passwords for all online health-related accounts. Consider using a password manager to keep track of your passwords securely.
  2. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Always activate two-factor authentication for an added layer of security on health portals and apps. This helps protect against unauthorized access even if your password is compromised.
  3. Stay Vigilant Against Phishing: Be cautious of emails or messages requesting personal health information. Verify the authenticity of the request by contacting the institution directly using a trusted phone number or email.

Be Selective and Informed About Health Apps and Devices

  1. Update Regularly: Keep the software on your mobile health apps and wearable devices updated to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  2. Research Before Downloading: Before using any health-related apps, especially those from for-profit companies, research their data privacy policies. Understand what data they collect, how they use it, and who they share it with.
  3. Be Careful Who You Share Your Data With:  It’s important to carefully consider who you are giving your information to when you use apps and other personal health devices. Matthew Herder, director of the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University, encourages people to exercise caution when using for-profit virtual care apps. As he commented to CBC, “All of this is happening because of a business model that sees value in collecting that data and using it in a variety of ways that have little to do with patient care and more to do with building up the assets of that company.” Do your research before inputting personal information into any app.


In today’s digital age, the protection of health data is more crucial than ever. The increasing sophistication of cyber threats, coupled with the high value of medical information, demands that individuals and healthcare providers alike adopt stringent security measures. By understanding the risks associated with health data breaches and implementing robust protections, we can safeguard our most sensitive information from cyber threats. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with both consumers and healthcare organizations to ensure that health data is protected against the evolving landscape of cyber risks.



CBS News



The Independent



Dr. Livingston enjoys taking care of patients from the mild to the wild. He is the doctor for you, if you have been to other places and told there was nothing that could be done for your or told “It’s all in your head”. He accepts all types of cases including workers compensation, auto accident and personal injury cases. He believes chiropractic can help everyone add life to their years and get them back to doing what they love.

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