Some of the greatest threats to your pharmacy aren’t lurking around the corner — in the form of burglars who break into your storefront, or thieves who steal your front-end items. Rather, they are waiting in the shadows of the technology you use every day: in your computer, your mobile devices, and your Internet-powered pharmacy equipment. Whether it be in the form of malware, ransomware, or data breaches, cyber threats are everywhere, with hackers hoping to take something even more valuable than your retail items: your information.
In healthcare, cyber threats are particularly relevant as facilities like doctor’s offices, hospitals, and pharmacies carry valuable - and confidential - patient information. This information can be used by hackers to purchase prescriptions or make fake medical claims — or it can even be sold to anonymous buyers on the dark web. To put this problem into perspective, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that between 2009 and 2020, 500 data breaches were responsible for the loss, theft, or exposure of over 250 million healthcare records.
When it comes to the issue of cybersecurity, your pharmacy is directly responsible for the safe input and storage of your patients’ data. By using smart practices in your day-to-day operations, you can dispel cyber threats and maintain data integrity. Here are some of the best ways to improve your pharmacy’s cybersecurity:
1. Use a VPN
Pharmacies rely on the Internet to maintain their internal network — the place where information is stored and patient data is accessed. In general, Internet connections in these networks are not secure, which puts you at a greater risk for cyber attacks and data loss. A VPN, or virtual private network, can alleviate this issue by separating your network from the public Internet and only allowing users within your network (your pharmacy’s team) to access your information. With a VPN, data stays encrypted, senders are always authenticated, and data integrity is always verified — significantly reducing the chance for hackers to access and steal your information.
Check out these popular VPN services that can help to strengthen your network and keep your patients safe.
2. Install Antivirus Software
During your workday, you may browse the web, respond to emails, and download files to keep your business up and running. Even if you visit a trusted site or open a seemingly “safe” attachment while completing these tasks, you can still come across a number of threats — without even knowing it. These cyber threats can enter your pharmacy’s network, compromise your data, and leave your patients at risk.
To help protect from undetectable threats, consider installing antivirus software. Antivirus software works by scheduling automatic scans for your computer, pinpointing specific instances of malware, deleting that malware, and then confirming the safety of your devices — all in a simple procedure that you can run in the background of your devices while working with patients.
Many software systems, like Norton and McAfee, offer good overarching protection. Some systems like Malwarebytes, though, offer healthcare-specific antivirus software designed to meet HIPAA, HITECH, and HITRUST requirements. In addition, they protect from healthcare threats like ransomware and botnet attacks.
3. Maintain Routine Updates
In addition to maintaining the health of your patients, you should work to maintain the health of your devices by updating them regularly. Old, outdated technology often has less security and fewer preventive measures in place than newer models, making it an easier target for hackers — who are already familiar with the technology and the vulnerabilities associated with it. Aside from the data risk, older technology runs slower, has more difficult troubleshooting, and can be harder to fix when problems arise.
As you run your pharmacy, make sure to check your operating system, your pharmacy software system, and any other programs that you regularly use for updates. Your operating system — whether it be Mac or Windows — can be easily updated from the control center of your computer. Your pharmacy software system can be updated internally, either with scheduled or automatic updates (Pro Tip: Choose a software vendor that offers regular updates that they perform for you). And, finally, any additional programs can be updated internally, ensuring that all of your bases are covered.
While these routine updates may seem monotonous, they are one of the most important steps in strong cybersecurity — so don’t skip out on them.
4. Choose a Pharmacy Software That Guards Data
Your pharmacy software is central to your success. More than any other piece of technology or equipment, it helps you track the ins and outs of your pharmacy: whether it be in managing finances, ordering supplies, or adjusting workflow. Most importantly, though, your pharmacy software system allows you to access your patients’ data.
Because it contains such valuable information, it is essential to make sure that the software you use allows you to enter, edit, and monitor patient data without compromise. To be more specific, your software should require authentication, meet patient privacy standards, and be regularly updated and backed up.
For an extra level of security, choose a software that permits you to control access to protected health information (PHI). The best pharmacy software systems allow you to select which pharmacists and technicians on your team can view PHI — and which ones can’t. By limiting the number of eyes that see PHI, you can ensure that patients are defended on all fronts.
Not sure of which software you can trust to protect your pharmacy and meet your needs? Read our comprehensive guide on How to Choose a Pharmacy Software System.
5. Establish a Culture of Cybersecurity
You can download equipment, purchase security plans, and perform all the right habits to strengthen your cybersecurity — but all of your efforts will be fruitless without establishing a culture of cybersecurity in your pharmacy and on your team. Without understanding the importance of cybersecurity and knowing the necessary steps to implement it, your team can unknowingly make mistakes that cost patients.
In an effort to create a strong culture of cybersecurity, train your team on cyber threats and inform them of what they can do to get involved: from practicing good computer habits to upholding HIPAA compliance, both in-person and online. Education boosts understanding, and understanding brings about better practices.
In addition to training your team, you — as a leader in your pharmacy — should set an example by following security procedures in their entirety. Don’t cut corners. Don’t skip steps. Instead, follow the guidelines that are meant to keep your data safe.
Finally, alongside your team, create a comprehensive plan for what to do if and when cyber threats arise in your pharmacy. Tell your staff about your plan and implement it when it is necessary. In the case of cybersecurity, preparation means protection.
Plan to Protect
In the digital world, security threats run rampant. Act as a safeguard for your pharmacy by increasing your cybersecurity, which will help you to prevent any unwanted threats and promote better safety as a whole. With good cybersecurity, your patients will be protected and your practice will be secure.