Cybersecurity and the advancement of digital dentistry
LEIPZIG, Germany: At this point, it almost goes without saying: the future of dentistry is digital. Though modern dental practices still frequently rely on the manual skills of dental practitioners, digital tools such as diagnostic imaging and electronic patient records have been integrated into existing workflows with haste owing to their ability to improve quality of care and simplify routine procedures. However, there are certain issues that arise from this increased digitisation, none more pertinent than cybersecurity.
In April, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a warning for individuals and business owners to be wary of cybercriminals seeking to exploit those adopting digital technologies through malware, phishing and other methods of attack. The alert came as many businesses were already well into the process of transitioning from operating their services in a physical context to a digital one as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Though dental practices in many countries have since resumed provision of their services in an in-person setting, the ongoing pandemic has already effected widespread change in many parts of the dental world. Recent graduates from a number of dental schools attended their commencement ceremonies virtually, while continuing dental education has essentially entirely migrated to online platforms with a high level of success. Although it is true that these measures may be relaxed when physical distancing is no longer necessary, the ease with which dentistry, as a whole, has adapted to this new normal demonstrates the utility of such digital avenues.
Data protection—a significant issue
As dental practitioners become increasingly reliant on digital technologies for a variety of workplace tasks, there is greater potential for this data to be accessed by a malicious actor. According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, intelligence agencies in both the UK and the US, along with executives at many hospitals and research centres, have cautioned that there has been a marked up-tick in cyber-attacks concentrated on the healthcare industry since the pandemic began.
“It is essential to ensure that all members of the dental team are able to identify phishing scams and other sources of potential malware”
Dental practices, and healthcare facilities in general, are an attractive target for cybercriminals for a number of reasons. Their databases generally contain a great deal of highly sensitive patient information, including names, health histories and even bank account details—information that can often prove to be highly valuable to those who steal it. Thankfully, the need for cybersecurity is something that the healthcare industry is well equipped to handle, according to Prof. Falk Schwendicke, deputy head of the Department of Restorative and Preventive dentistry at Charité—Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany.
“I think medicine is quite well prepared in terms of cybersecurity, since we have been dealing with issues of data protection for decades now,” Schwendicke said in a recent interview with Dental Tribune International. “We already have very strict rules for how data is stored, what dentists can do with it and when we need the patient’s consent. I don’t think it will be a major hurdle in the long run.”
What dental professionals can do
Though data protection regulations may help to hamper the efforts of cybercriminals, dentists can, and should, implement additional measures to help safeguard any sensitive data. For example, it is essential to ensure that all members of the dental team are able to identify phishing scams and other sources of potential malware, and are cognisant of existing data protection regulations and how they relate to patient information. In addition, dental practices should ensure that the companies they work with have appropriate security measures in place for their digital solutions. If a data breach does occur, it is crucial to react immediately and attempt to limit the extent of the breach and minimise its impact.