Understanding and Preventing Data Breaches in Dental Practices

January 4, 2024
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Anne Genge

Anne Genge is on a mission to make dentistry safer online. With over two decades of experience, Anne has become a leading expert and trainer in privacy & cybersecurity for dental practices.

Data breaches in dental offices are more common than many might think.

Despite the smaller scale of these practices compared to large hospitals or corporate entities, they are not immune to the risks and consequences of data breaches. This article aims to shed light on how these breaches occur, what constitutes a breach, and what dental practices can do to prevent them.

The Reality of Data Breaches in Dental Practices

Dental practices, like any other healthcare providers, store a wealth of sensitive patient information. This makes them attractive targets for cybercriminals. A breach can occur in various ways, from sophisticated cyber-attacks to simple human errors.

Examples of Breaches in Dental Offices

  1. Ransomware Attacks: In 2019, a ransomware attack impacted over 400 dental practices in the U.S. The attackers used a software provider as the conduit to infect the practices’ systems, encrypting patient data and demanding a ransom for its release. [Reference: ADA News, “Ransomware attack affects hundreds of dental practices,” 2019]
  2. Phishing Scams: A common method used by attackers is sending phishing emails to staff. In one case, an employee at a dental practice clicked on a malicious link in an email, unknowingly giving hackers access to patient records. [Reference: HealthITSecurity, “Phishing Attack Impacts 20K Patients at Wisconsin Dental Provider,” 2020]
  3. Accidental Data Exposure: Sometimes, breaches occur without malicious intent. For instance, an employee might accidentally send patient information to the wrong recipient, leading to an unintended breach.

What Constitutes a Data Breach?

A data breach in a dental office involves unauthorized access to or disclosure of protected health information (PHI). This can include anything from patient names and contact details to more sensitive data like health histories and treatment records.

Herjavec Group 2020 Healthcare Cybersecurity Report


Preventive Measures for Dental Practices

  1. Regular Staff Training: Educate your team about the importance of cybersecurity. Training should cover recognizing phishing emails, proper handling of patient data, and password management.
  2. Implement Strong Security Protocols: Use firewalls, antivirus software, and secure Wi-Fi networks. Ensure that all systems are regularly updated to patch vulnerabilities.
  3. Data Encryption: Encrypt patient data both at rest and in transit. This makes the data unreadable to unauthorized individuals.
  4. Access Controls: Limit access to patient data to only those who need it for their job.
  5. Regular Data Backups: Regularly back up patient data to a secure location and test your backups to ensure they will be usable when needed. This is crucial in case of data loss due to ransomware or other cyber-attacks.
  6. Develop a Response Plan: Have a plan in place for responding to data breaches. This should include steps for securing systems, notifying affected patients, and reporting the breach to relevant authorities.

Protecting Your Practice Through Training

Understanding what constitutes a data breach and how to prevent them is crucial for dental practices. By taking proactive steps and educating staff, dental offices can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches, ensuring the safety and trust of their patients.

Remember, cybersecurity is a continuous process, and staying informed and aware is key to protecting sensitive patient information. Cybersecurity Awareness Training is key to ensuring your team knows how to defend your data.

If you haven’t already, take the Cybersecurity Essentials for Dental Teams course to ensure you have the skills and confidence to navigate safely online to protect patient and personal data.

Anne Genge, Certified Information Privacy Professional, Certified Healthcare Cybersecurity Professional, Certified Healthcare Security Risk Assessment Specialist BOOK A MEETING

Anne is the founder of Myla Training Co., Canada’s first-ever online privacy and cybersecurity training platform for dental professionals. With over two decades of experience, Anne has become a leading expert and trainer in this field. Anne collaborates closely with practice owners, managers, dental teams, and IT providers to ensure the safety of patients and practice data while enabling compliance with privacy regulations.

Anne can be reached at anne@myla.training or BOOK A MEETING

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Cybersecurity Essentials for Dental Teams

Cybersecurity awareness training that provides dental professionals with the skills needed to prevent breaches, ransomware, and data theft at work (and at home). Get immediate access and complete training in less than 40 minutes.
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