The Importance of Data Privacy and Software Security in the Healthcare Industry

The U.S. healthcare industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This is largely thanks to American’s soaring healthcare costs, recent advances in cancer and diabetes care, and a focus on producing new, innovative software for patients.

These recent developments caused American healthcare payments to reach $3.5 trillion in 2018. Also, the industry is expected to continue to expand—with experts predicting that U.S healthcare expenditures will reach $5.6 trillion in 2025.

One of the consequences of the healthcare industry’s growth is that more and more patient data is being stored online where it is vulnerable to hackers. This is especially important because many companies outsource crucial aspects of the development cycle to nearshore software development firms.

These companies are excellent resources and help ensure that software is developed rapidly while meeting stakeholder goals. However, partitioning development among a group of geographically separated software engineers can increase security vulnerabilities if security is not proactively discussed.

This guide will help healthcare executives understand their unique software vulnerabilities and select the best security model for their needs.

Importance of data privacy

The Importance of Data Privacy

Data privacy is perhaps the single most important issue facing businesses across the world over the next decade. That’s because cyber-attack damage is projected to reach an astonishing $6 trillion per year by 2021.

Also, hackers attempt to break into a computer “every 39 seconds on average,” with the frequency of attacks increasing every year. This means that businesses of all sizes must proactively take steps to protect their consumer’s data and withstand increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

The stakes are even higher for the healthcare industry for three reasons:

  • Hospitals and other healthcare providers store a massive amount of the type of sensitive personal and medical data that hackers love, such as social security numbers, medical diagnoses, and credit card information.
  • Research shows that the medical industry is consistently ranked last for its cybersecurity defenses and external security posture.
  • Healthcare companies often outsource aspects of the development process to nearshore development services, which increases security risks unless a comprehensive security methodology is in place from the beginning.

In fact, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives recently commented that “cybercrime in healthcare settings is now a lucrative industry for bad actors” and that “innovations in technology must consider these growing threats.”

Despite the massive amount of data stored by healthcare companies and their poor rankings in cybersecurity studies, healthcare executives have not responded aggressively to the risk. Recent research found that cybersecurity ranked as the tenth most important priority for healthcare leadership, placing behind value-based payments, external market disruption, and operational effectiveness.

Selecting the Right Security Methodology

For industries like information technology and finance, executives have a range of security approaches to choose from. However, healthcare executives would be wise to use either the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) CSF or the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) CSF, both of which integrate U.S. compliance requirements into the framework.


The NIST CSF is a voluntary framework that provides a set of guidelines and standards that software engineers can use to integrate cybersecurity into software that handles extremely sensitive data, such as those used by healthcare organizations.

Originally released in 2014, this recent methodology provides a common ground for organizations across various industries that deal with sensitive data. NIST CF accomplishes its security mission through cybersecurity guidelines, a set of testable data privacy standards, and by using the highly respected reputation of the NIST as proof of concept.

Finally, the NIST CSF uses a risk management approach to help companies understand the importance of cybersecurity and to direct their resources into the most important cybersecurity initiatives. This is done through Framework Implementation Tiers, which describe the degree of sophistication and monetary resources necessary to implement a specific cybersecurity practice.


HITRUST is a private healthcare company that collaborated with healthcare executives, government regulators, and cybersecurity experts to create a data privacy program specifically designed for the healthcare industry.

The protocol aimed to solve one of the most difficult healthcare industry problems: making sure that software and devices comply with the huge array of healthcare compliance requirements in the industry. This is accomplished by integrating each of these requirements into the security protocol itself—guaranteeing that each piece of software produced with this methodology will comply with governmental regulations.

Also, the framework automatically scales and assigns secure access to people based on the organization’s size and type, ensuring that sensitive data is only available to a select few. This is especially useful when using a nearshore development partner since companies can outsource work without worrying about data access.

Finally, the methodology also follows a risk-based approach that helps businesses direct limited cybersecurity resources into the most important areas.

In Conclusion

Data privacy and compliance must become top priorities for healthcare executives. That’s because the rise of cloud computing, combined with new, more expansive electronic health records, means that more sensitive patient data is being stored online. This means that the number of attacks will only continue to increase, and healthcare executives must take proactive steps to protect this data.

Also, the rise of nearshore software outsourcing means that many aspects of the software development lifecycle are being outsourced to 3rd parties. That’s why the best healthcare executives ensure data privacy by following a proven healthcare security approach, such as the NIST or HITRUST CSFs.

These approaches will ensure that organizations remain in compliance with governmental regulations. Their extensive suites of security protocols also help healthcare organizations protect sensitive patient data and update their technology as the security threat environment changes.

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