As medical billing and coding professionals find their occupation making increasing use of computers and the latest billing or coding software, it will come as no surprise that electronic thieves – hackers – are also becoming a growing concern. There are two main reasons hackers will target billing and coding professionals: to steal confidential information and to gain cyber access to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
The first and most common reason a medical billing and coding professional will be targeted is to obtain information to steal someones identity. A patient’s electronic health record will contain information such as a patient’s birthday, social security number, legal name, and address. Hackers pilfer and then sell this information, which is essential to stealing ones identity.
With this information identity thieves can fraudulently open bank accounts, take out loans, apply for credit cards, and the list goes on. Identity theft affects tens of millions of Americans every year, costing tens of billions of dollars. Statistics released by the Bureau of Justice reveal that around seven percent of American households experience identity theft each year.
A recent case from Boston demonstrated that hackers may also target billing and coding professionals for ideological reasons. Boston Children’s Hospital found itself under cyber attack recently when it became involved in a controversial custody battle to treat a teenager who had psychological issues. In this instance hackers affiliated with the group Anonymous felt the hospital had made a bad decision and launched several days of cyber attacks against the Children’s Hospital.
Medical billing and coding professionals should worry about their cyber security being compromised for a number of reasons:
- To protect confidential and sensitive patient data
- To avoid damaging their reputation
- To avoid fines imposed if lax security measures are found to have allowed an easy theft
What it Means to Be Hacked
There are all kinds of malicious attacks and malware a billing and coding professional can come across. Computer viruses can be unknowingly installed on a target’s computer that will transmit information like keystrokes – including usernames and passwords – and files contained within a computer’s hard drive. Hackers can also gain access to infected computers and snoop around in whatever files they choose.
A computer infected with a virus that has destroyed certain security measures can act as a zombie that will attack and infect other computers. These infected computers can then also be commanded to mount an organized attack on designated targets. Hackers can also use infected computers to gain access to networks that do not recognize a computer is infected, potentially breaching an entire hospital’s or healthcare provider’s computer system.
Computers can become infected by viruses through any number of activities, including:
- Through an unsecured wireless network
- By the introduction of infected materials, such as infected USB drives, CDs, DVDs, tablets, or cellphones. Infected materials can also be sent through a Bluetooth connection.
- By opening emails that contain a computer virus
- By visiting malicious or infected webpages
- Through a compromised network connection
Billing and coding professionals can minimize their chance of catching a computer virus and being hacked by avoiding these most common means of infection. This means:
- Turn off a computer’s wifi and Bluetooth when it is not needed or when traveling
- Do not mix personal and work devices, such as USB sticks, tablet computers, DVDs, etc
- Only open emails from known sources
- Only visit trusted websites
- Conduct frequent virus scans and maintain a computer’s security updates