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Healthcare CIOs know a lot about the Health Level Seven standard. If you manage the health IT system for a reasonably large provider, you’ve must have been told how vital HL7 standards are for interoperability between applications, clinical departments, laboratories, and health information exchange networks.

HL7 standards have made it easy for physicians to obtain comprehensive health records for new patients. EHRs that are HL7 compatible can transfer different documents across various health care applications to fulfill physician requests.

Ideally, this power to exchange information and transfer data should remove the geographical limitations that block access to medical care, boost the development of low-cost solutions, and integrate medical devices.

In recent years, the drive for a fully interoperable health care system has increased the use of HL7 standards. All the big players in the industry and custom medical solution developers have created APIs that are HL7 and FHIR compatible.

The massively positive impact of HL7 would have been celebrated except for one major drawback: data security risks. This widely used data transfer standard has no built-in message verification or encryption. While many developers are touting security integrations, there’s no basic authentication method, and the security controls put in the documentation are subject to debate.

Unfortunately, HL7 was built when most medical record applications were used in-house with a client-server model. The largely insecure HL7 has now made it a high risk for use in the public cloud. This presents a significant security threat to healthcare providers and patients by making private health information open to data breaches and cyber-attacks.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California revealed that HL7 standards are often implemented in an insecure way, leading to the unvalidated, unauthenticated transfer of patient data. The researchers created a tool to perform a simulated cyber-attack and exploit the authentication vulnerabilities. They successfully switched laboratory test results. In real life, this could lead to the wrong diagnosis and inflict serious harm upon patients. So what is the solution to the security risks posed by the ubiquitous use of HL7 data?

How to Protect Sensitive HL7 Data from Cyber Attacks

The following tactics can reduce the susceptibility of your hospital information system to an HL7 data breach.

  1. Use Strict Access Controls

Implement multi-factor authentication and a well-enforced password policy. Also, use third-party security tools to secure and encrypt messages that exchange health information. Always ensure that you wrap your messages in extra layers of protection to keep HL7 data secure.

  1. Protect Your Data with a VPN

Using a VPN will protect the company network from unauthorized public access. Your VPN will not only safeguard messages and data; it will keep the entire organization’s network from being hacked.

  1. Work With an HL7 Expert

Every data technology has its risks, and HL7 is not an exception. However, working with a solution provider that understands where the vulnerabilities are can make it easier to secure your data and network without having sleepless nights. That’s why you need to partner with a custom HL7 API developer that can help you secure all incoming and outgoing HL7 data requests.

Learn More Expert Tips for Secure HL7 Standards and FHIR Applications

Contact Lifepoint Informatics today for a free consultation on how to keep your health information secure. Call us now at 877.522.8378 to discover how you can protect your patient, clinical, and financial data from a security breach.