Microsoft 365 can help health providers adapt in an era of patient data protection

For years, patient management meant one thing—secure the . Now, healthcare leaders must protect and openly share the with patients and with other healthcare organizations to support quality of care, patient safety, and cost reduction. As flows more freely, following the patient, there’s less risk of redundant testing that increases cost and waste. Legacy infrastructure and cybersecurity concerns stand on the critical path to greater interoperability and patient record portability. Learn how Microsoft 365 can help.

Impact of regulatory changes and forces

Regulatory changes are a big driver for this shift. Through regulations like the 21st Century Cures Act in the United States, healthcare organizations are required to improve their capabilities to protect and share patient data. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union expands the rights of data subjects over their data. Failing to share patient data in an effective, timely, and secure manner can result in significant penalties for providers and for healthcare payors.

Market forces are another driver of this shift as consumers’ expectations of omni-channel service and access spill over to healthcare. This augurs well for making the patient more central to data flows.

There are unintended consequences, however. The increasing need to openly share data creates new opportunities for hackers to explore, and new risks for health organizations to manage.

It’s more important than ever to have a data governance and proactive cybersecurity strategy that enables free data flow with an optimal security posture. In fact, government regulators will penalize healthcare organizations for non-compliance and so will the marketplace.

Modernizing legacy systems and processes is a daunting, expensive task. Navigating a digitized but siloed information system is costly, impedes clinician workflow, and complicates patient safety goals.

To this end, Microsoft Teams enables the integration of electronic health record information and other health data, allowing care teams to communicate and collaborate about patient care in real-time. Leading interoperability partners continue to build the ability to integrate electronic health records into Teams through a FHIR interface. With Teams, clinical workers can securely access patient information, chat with other team members, and even have modern meeting experiences, all without having to switch between apps.

Incomplete data and documentation are among the biggest sources of provider and patient dissatisfaction. Clinicians value the ability to communicate with each other securely and swiftly to deliver the best informed care at point of care.

Teams now offers new secure messaging capabilities, including priority notifications and message delegation, as well as a smart camera with image annotation and secure sharing, so images stay in Teams and aren’t stored to the clinician’s device image gallery.

Image of phone screens showing priority notifications and message delegation.

What about cybersecurity and patient data? As legacy infrastructure gives way to more seamless data flow, it’s important to protect against a favorite tactic of cyber criminals—phishing.

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Phishing emails—weaponized emails that appear to come from a reputable source or person—are increasingly difficult to detect. As regulatory pressure mounts within healthcare organizations to not “block” access to data, the risk of falling for such phishing attacks is expected to increase. To help mitigate this trend, Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) has a cloud-based email filtering service with sophisticated anti-phishing capabilities.

For example, Office 365 ATP provides real-time detonation capabilities to find and block unknown threats, including malicious links and attachments. Links in email are continuously evaluated for user safety. Similarly, any attachments in email are tested for malware and unsafe attachments are removed.

Image of a message appearing on a tablet screen showing a website that has been classified as malicious.

For data to flow freely, it’s important to apply the right governance and protection to sensitive data. And that is premised on appropriate data classification. Microsoft 365 helps organizations find and classify sensitive data across a variety of locations, including devices, apps, and cloud services with Microsoft Information Protection. Administrators need to know that sensitive data is accessed by authorized personnel only. Microsoft 365, through Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), enables capabilities like Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and conditional access policies to minimize the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive patient information.

For example, if a user or device sign-in is tagged as high-risk, Azure AD can automatically enforce conditional access policies that can limit or block access or require the user to re-authenticate via MFA. Benefitting from the integrated signals of the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph, Microsoft 365 solutions look holistically at the user sign-in behavior over time to assess risk and investigate anomalies where needed.

When faced with the prospect of internal leaks, Supervision in Microsoft 365 can help organizations monitor employees’ communications channels to manage compliance and reduce reputational risk from policy violations. As patient data is shared, tracking its flow is essential. Audit log and alerts in Microsoft 365 includes several auditing and reporting features that customers can use to track certain activity such as changes made to documents and other items.

Finally, as you conform with data governance regulatory obligations and audits, Microsoft 365 can assist you in responding to regulators. Advanced eDiscovery and Data Subject Requests (DSRs) capabilities offer the agility and efficiency you need when going through an audit, helping you find relevant patient data or respond to patient information requests.

Using the retention policies of Advanced Data Governance, you can retain core business records in unalterable, compliant formats. With records management capabilities, your core business records can be properly declared and stored with full audit visibility to meet regulatory obligations.

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