Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Can Computer Viruses Affect Your Medical Practice?

As healthcare becomes increasingly dependent on information technology, system breakdowns due to viruses, worms and other malware can potentially stall the entire working of your practice. This article aims to discuss how practitioners can protect their computers against viruses to ensure the safety and confidentiality of their data systems.

What are Computer Viruses?

A virus is simply a software program or a piece of code that is developed to spread and break into computer systems to consume available memory, corrupt or erase data and eventually cause the system to stop working. 

There are many types of malware and computer viruses and they vary in characteristics, disguises and potency to breach security and spread across networks. 

Computer viruses are nowadays commonly spread by attachments in emails or IM messages. They can also be disguised as attractive images, lucrative discount deals, lottery announcements and other audio-visual files that are likely to arouse user-curiosity and consequent click or download response. Computer viruses and malware are easily spread using free Internet downloads and pirated or illegal programs and files. 

A computer virus infection can be detected from typical symptoms like lowered system speed, frequent hanging or freezing, unprecedented restarts, improper or sluggish functioning of applications, inaccessibility of disk or drives, unusual error messages, missing programs etc.
Even though these indicators may hint at other hardware or software problems, the safest option in such a situation is to run an anti-virus check and contact your data security provider.

How Can Computer Viruses Affect Your Practice?

EMRs and other electronic healthcare data systems hold confidential patient information and practitioners are responsible for their privacy, safety and security. Data theft, loss and system breakdowns due to virus attacks can be very detrimental to a practice and can even put people’s lives in danger.

While effective backup systems and regularly updated anti-virus software can help you avert these debacles, medical professionals must be informed about the repercussions and penalties that HIPAA mandates in case they fail to protect medical information. The federal law treats medical data security as a legal requirement and any compromise on this front is a punishable offense. HIPAA has also released guidelines to assist practitioners and data security professionals in building unbreachable data systems that protect electronic medical data in EMR and other software.

What Can You Do To Prevent Virus Attacks?

A comprehensive data security plan involves regularly updated system security, frequent data backups, employee education and effective administrative policies that regulate the use and accessibility of medical IT systems.

Antivirus Software

When implementing your EMR, ensure that your server and workstations are adequately protected against malware. There are many effective virus protection software programs that help shield your system from viruses, malware and spyware. Ideally, these virus protection programs must be installed and regularly updated as soon as you get your IT infrastructure in place, with or without the EMR. Some antivirus programs are freely available for download online (with paid premium versions) while others can be purchased for a fee. 

We list some of the most effective virus protection software programs that are popular for medical IT security.






In the free to download segment, the most popular antivirus software programs are,

1. AVG


You may also ask your local computer vendor or EMR provider to guide you on the most appropriate protection program for your practice. Many reputable EMR vendors include antivirus and security programs in their services at no additional fee or cost of resources.

Data Backup Systems

Regular backups are an absolute must in order to prevent the loss of crucial medical information to disruptive computer viruses. All data must be backed up on remote servers that are professionally managed by data security experts. With a backup system in place, even if your local server were to get infected and your data were to get erased or corrupted, you would still have all your information secure and intact on this remote server.

Along with antivirus and data backup systems, practitioners and healthcare staff must adopt the following practices in order to build the practice’s defense against unprecedented virus attacks. 
1. Routers and wireless internet connections must be protected with strong, unbreachable password keys.
2. Install firewalls and always keep them on.
3. Do not download attachments or click links from unknown email messages, IMs and social media sites unless you are expecting them. 
4. Do not respond to unusual virus attack warnings from unrecognized sources or download rogue programs that offer to heal the virus. More often than not, they are viruses disguised a antivirus software. 
5. Do not be lured into downloading malware hidden in funny images and unknown audio/video files. Only download from trusted sources and websites.
6. Regularly install updates for all your software. Subscribe to automatic updates if available. 
7. Passwords should be strong and kept confidential. They should ideally include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and be at least 14 characters long. Staff should be advised to memorize them instead of noting them down somewhere. Also, each application should have a unique password that is not repeated elsewhere in another application, website or program. 
8. Be cautious while using flash drives. Ensure that they are virus-free before running them on your system.



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