Healthy Living

Health Informatics and COVID-19: Risks Patients Face

Health Informatics and COVID-19: Risks Patients Face
Health Informatics and COVID-19: Risks Patients Face Pixabay

What once was a small, new illness has become a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19, discovered in November of 2019, has become history’s latest global pandemic, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and infecting millions, with symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Fever
  • Loss of smell and/or taste
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle fatigue

And plenty more. Most symptoms won’t even present themselves until it’s been a couple weeks (CDC says 2-14 days for signs of infection to show)!

And while scientists and medical professionals work on creating a vaccine (or other forms of treatment), many are stuck in the hospital—some for a few days, others for months.

Problem is that their staying in hospitals puts them into more risks than one might think. Patients are subjected to their data being harvested and stolen by the various cybercriminals targeting medical centers.

According to Dr. Ewan Affleck, a senior medical adviser at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, doctors are using communication tools not approved for security, such as Zoom or FaceTime—programs not built with medical security in mind.

These apps pose a risk to the state of health informatics. But before we talk about that, let’s discuss what health informatics is, then we can discuss the risks posed by these apps.

Explaining What Health Informatics is

Non-profit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society defines health informatics as “the integration of healthcare sciences, computer science, information science, and cognitive science to assist in the management of healthcare information.”

In other words, health informatics concerns the management of a patient’s personal information, financial information, and the ways that information can be secured, along with creating efficient ways to handle said information.

It allows medical professionals to parse through the data they need quickly and concisely so that patients can get the help they need sooner rather than later.

Concerns Over the State of Health Informatics

While the practice of health informatics is an essential part to the medical field, it’s not without its faults. Cybercriminals attempt hacks often, and security systems and data management programs must be updated frequently.

However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown the vulnerabilities in the field—vulnerabilities that will affect the wellbeing of patients outside of physical health.

During times of pandemic, doctors must decide what’s important to them: security or patients’ wellbeing. Obviously, they’d pick the wellbeing of their patients over security, and we’re already seeing that now.

Remember earlier when I mentioned the use of Zoom, FaceTime, and other unsecure programs for communication? That’s widespread. Dr. Affleck is right—medical professionals are sacrificing security for treatment. Of course, he was talking about the state of healthcare in Canada, but it’s safe to assume other countries are doing this as well.

So, what can be done? How can medical professionals ensure quick communication and treatment while keeping patients safe and healthy?

Finding Solutions for Health Informatics

Breaking the established rules of security has been shown to be a necessary step during this pandemic, but that doesn’t mean doctors and other medical professionals don’t have a job to protect their patients from outside threats.

One of the best ways to ensure proper security is for their hospital/medical center/research center/vice versa is by setting up proper encryption. Setting up proper encryption would allow for them to communicate or send data through any tool they need with security, protecting their patients in the process.

There are multiple ways one can set up proper encryption. For one, you could install encryption software on every device used for work (such as a proxy). Another way would be to set up network-wide encryption with a VPN router or something similar.

The best software and hardware becomes useless if the people taking advantage of them don’t understand their responsibility to protect patients’ privacy, however, which is why it’s vital that doctors and other medical professionals are aware of the privacy risks haunting the medical field right now.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has sent the world into a panic, overrun hospitals with victims of the disease, and forced medical professionals to forego proper security procedures in order to care for their patients.

The field of health informatics is in disarray, but that doesn’t mean patients’ privacy has been thrown to the wayside. With a dose of cooperation and a pinch of education about health informatics, medical professionals everywhere can keep patients secure.

NOTE: This article is a contribution from our advertiser and does not necessarily represent the views of Medical Daily
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