Unencrypted Electronic Health Records (EHRs): Healthcare Cybersecurity

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have emerged as the backbone of modern medical practice. These digital repositories consolidate patient data, streamline healthcare workflows, and enhance patient care. However, as healthcare systems become increasingly reliant on technology, they become more susceptible to cybersecurity threats.

One particularly concerning aspect of this vulnerability is the prevalence of unencrypted EHRs, which exposes sensitive patient information to potential breaches. This article delves into the intricate world of healthcare cybersecurity, focusing on the critical issue of unencrypted EHRs.

EHRs and Modern Medicine

EHRs have revolutionized how healthcare professionals manage patient data, enabling more informed decision-making and improving patient outcomes. The convenience and accessibility EHRs offer come hand in hand with the responsibility to ensure their security. With cyberattacks targeting healthcare organizations on the rise, safeguarding patient data has become an imperative task. This article explores the implications of unencrypted EHRs within the broader landscape of healthcare cybersecurity. We discuss the significance of cybersecurity breaches in the healthcare sector, highlighting the potentially devastating consequences of compromised patient data.


As the digital revolution continues to reshape the healthcare industry, it's imperative that healthcare organizations acknowledge the critical importance of cybersecurity. The transformation from unencrypted EHRs to fortified data protection is a journey that requires collaboration between healthcare professionals, IT experts, policymakers, and patients. In this article, we’ll get a little deeper into why there is unencrypted healthcare data and the importance of healthcare cybersecurity.

Understanding EHRs 

EHRs are designed to provide healthcare professionals with a holistic view of a patient's medical journey, facilitating informed decision-making, efficient care coordination, and improved patient outcomes. These records include patient demographics like name, birthdate, contact details, insurance information, medical history, and medication and prescription history. They also have clinical notes, laboratory and test results, radiology images, treatment plans, progress notes, care plans, and immunization records. These data points are all compassionate information cybercriminals seek to extort medical establishments and patients themselves!

This data works with EHR systems that medical practitioners use to store data as they work with their patients, and this data can be moved across networks to ensure comprehensive treatment for patients across various medical establishments. Authorized healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, specialists, and administrative staff, can access the patient's EHR whenever needed, allowing for comprehensive and coordinated care. Many EHR systems offer patient portals, allowing patients to access their health records, review test results, request prescription refills, and communicate with their healthcare providers.


EHRs often include clinical decision support tools that provide healthcare professionals with alerts, reminders, and evidence-based recommendations to enhance patient care and safety. And of course, aggregated and de-identified EHR data can be used for research, population health management, and identifying trends in healthcare practices. 


EHRs aim to streamline healthcare workflows, reduce medical errors, enhance patient safety, and improve healthcare quality. However, the security and protection of patient data within EHRs are critical to ensuring patient privacy and maintaining trust in the healthcare system. Encryption and robust cybersecurity measures are vital in safeguarding sensitive patient information stored in EHRs from unauthorized access and cyber threats.

Related Content: Improving Your Cybersecurity Strategy with a Virtual CISO

Unencrypted EHRs: Why Aren’t They All Encrypted?

The sensitive nature of the healthcare data begs the question: why aren’t all EHRs encrypted? It seems like a no-brainer! Unfortunately, there are quite a few reasons medical practitioners have their data unencrypted—first, money. Implementing encryption can be resource-intensive in terms of both time and money. Many healthcare organizations, especially smaller ones with limited budgets, might find it challenging to allocate the necessary resources to implement and maintain encryption technologies effectively. Then there are technical challenges. 


Many medical equipment is outdated and wasn’t designed with encryption in mind. Integrating encryption into existing EHR systems can be complex, mainly if the systems were developed without encryption. Retrofitting encryption into legacy systems can be time-consuming and may lead to workflow and patient care disruptions. Some healthcare professionals argue that encryption can introduce additional steps and complexity to accessing patient information. Balancing the need for robust security with the need for quick and easy access to patient data is a challenge. This also ties into healthcare professionals’ lack of technical knowledge and the added steps of getting through encryption, which can be frustrating. 


Despite these challenges, the growing awareness of cybersecurity threats and the potential consequences of data breaches are pushing more healthcare organizations to consider encryption a critical component of their cybersecurity strategy. Regulatory bodies are also starting to emphasize the importance of encryption in protecting patient data, which could encourage broader adoption in the future.

How to Address Unencrypted EHRs: Next Steps

Healthcare organizations can take several proactive steps to address the issue of unencrypted Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and enhance their data security. 


The first step is to thoroughly assess the existing EHR systems to identify areas where encryption is lacking. This involves evaluating which components of the EHR contain sensitive patient data and assessing the potential risks associated with unencrypted data. By understanding the vulnerabilities, organizations can prioritize areas that require immediate attention and allocate resources effectively.


Healthcare organizations should invest in robust encryption protocols covering data at rest (when stored on servers or devices) and in transit (when transmitted between systems). Implementing encryption involves integrating encryption algorithms and cryptographic keys into the EHR systems. Collaborating with IT professionals, security experts, and EHR vendors can help ensure that encryption measures are effectively integrated without disrupting workflows.


Proper training and awareness programs are crucial to ensure that healthcare professionals and staff understand the importance of encryption, how to use encrypted systems, and their actions' impact on data security. Providing comprehensive training helps prevent security breaches and empowers employees to identify and respond to potential threats promptly. Regular updates and refresher courses help maintain a culture of cybersecurity within the organization.


By conducting a thorough risk assessment, implementing encryption protocols, and emphasizing training, healthcare organizations can take significant strides toward addressing the issue of unencrypted EHRs. These actions protect patient data and contribute to building a robust cybersecurity framework that safeguards sensitive information in an increasingly digitized healthcare landscape.


Are you a healthcare professional with questions about how to incorporate encryption into your organization’s cybersecurity strategy? Compuquip can help! We can help bring legacy healthcare data storage into the next generation of protection to keep healthcare providers' and patients’ data safe. Reach out now to learn more!


New call-to-action