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Why is Cybersecurity Readiness Crucial for VMAs

  • 11 Mar 2024

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In healthcare, every moment matters, requiring medical professionals to have reliable access to patient information, tools, equipment, and virtual medical assistants for diagnosis and treatment. The digital transformation has dramatically benefited practices of all sizes, improving efficiency and patient care. However, this transformation has also increased opportunities for cybercriminals to target the healthcare sector.

Cybersecurity readiness becomes even more critical as the integration of virtual medical assistants becomes more prevalent. Healthcare professionals must ensure the security of confidential patient information, insurance and financial details, valuable research, and critical operations, as these are prime targets for hackers. The threat extends beyond data; specific cyber attacks pose a risk to patient safety. It is essential to defend your practice against cyber attacks.

In this blog, you'll gain insights into the top cyber threats facing healthcare institutions and receive actionable tips to strengthen your defense.

Healthcare represents a prime target for cyber attackers, and for a good reason:

Healthcare emerges as a prime target for cyber attackers, which is not without reason. Healthcare institutions oversee and safeguard data highly coveted by attackers. In the United States alone, nearly 3.4 million medical records are compromised each month. With an array of targets, including private practices, equipment manufacturers, treatment centers, labs, long-term care facilities, and specialized clinics, cybercriminals have many options within the healthcare sector.

Why do Hackers Target Healthcare?

Several key factors contribute to making healthcare an attractive target for cybercriminals. Healthcare providers possess personally identifiable information (PII), medical records, and patient billing details. As a result, those within the industry may be more inclined to comply with attacker demands to minimize consequences and restore operations. 

Furthermore, the rapid adoption of new technology in clinics, treatment centers, and hospitals, including smart devices, virtual medical assistants, and systems, aims to improve patient outcomes and enhance efficiency. However, when left outdated or unsecured, these technologies can serve as entry points for attackers to access the broader network where valuable data, research, and PHI are stored.

While it might be tempting to believe that a small, single-physician clinic would escape an attacker's notice, many cybersecurity incidents and data breaches involve smaller healthcare organizations. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), this could be attributed to their prevalence, which indicates that most physicians work in practices with fewer than ten doctors on staff.

Cybersecurity Readiness for VMAs: What’s at Stake?

Ensuring the cybersecurity readiness of Virtual Medical Assistants (VMAs) is of utmost importance in the evolving landscape of healthcare technology. As you navigate the integration of VMAs into your healthcare practices, it's crucial to understand the potential risks and consequences associated with a lack of preparedness. 

Let's delve into what's at stake when it comes to the lack of cybersecurity readiness of VMAs:

Regulatory Consequences

Given the management of confidential data, you must comply with numerous healthcare security regulations. These regulations aim to safeguard individual privacy, and a data breach compromising personal information could result in regulatory enforcement or legal action. In the United Kingdom, healthcare institutions are subject to a national evaluation of their cyber readiness, with non-compliance leading to legal consequences and severe penalties.

For large international healthcare enterprises, compliance complexities are heightened by varying healthcare security regulations across jurisdictions and obstacles related to data sovereignty.

Major Healthcare Security Regulations:

  • The General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) – United Kingdom
  • The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) – Canada
  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) – United States

Massive Financial Consequences

The financial toll of a cyber attack represents a substantial threat capable of jeopardizing even the most well-funded healthcare organizations. While ransom demands may be unreasonable, the aftermath involves additional overwhelming expenses. Following an attack, organizations often have to repair or replace compromised IT infrastructure to prevent further exploitation of vulnerabilities. This challenge is particularly formidable for smaller practices lacking the resources available to larger entities.

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Increased Legal Risk

After a cyber-attack compromising patient data, healthcare organizations may face class-action lawsuits. Beyond the substantial financial losses, Scripps Health, for example, is confronting several class-action lawsuits citing "negligence in safeguarding" patient records. One plaintiff is demanding $1,000 per violation alongside additional punitive damages. These lawsuits represent a continuation of a trend, with 13 high-profile lawsuits filed against US-based healthcare organizations in 2020 alone for allegedly mishandling sensitive patient data.

Reputational Damage

Despite legal obligations, many healthcare organizations hesitate to disclose cyber security incidents publicly. Understandably, an attack, regardless of a robust defense, can severely tarnish a healthcare provider's reputation. This may lead to apprehensive patients seeking medical services elsewhere, making attracting new clients challenging for affected practices. Studies indicate that over 90% of individuals would consider changing healthcare providers if their data was exposed in a "preventable" cyber attack.

Building Stronger Defenses for Your VMAs

When it comes to cybersecurity, even little steps make a significant difference. A lot of education, training, and the right investments can help you improve your virtual medical assistant’s security, keeping patients and their health information safe.

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Business VPN

If your staffing requirements involve remote work, such as virtual medical assistants, the imperative to secure remote access becomes even more prominent. Ensuring compliance with healthcare security regulations presents a substantial challenge, particularly in facilitating secure remote access for your medical practice. A robust business VPN is a practical solution in this context. By encrypting the data transmitted between central servers and remote locations, business VPNs guarantee the confidentiality and integrity of PHI. Additionally, they provide nuanced control over access rights and can record and audit remote connections, facilitating adherence to regulatory audit procedures.

Multi-Factor Authentication 

VMAs often handle sensitive patient data, making them prime targets for cyber attacks. MFA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access, even if login credentials are compromised. It requires multiple verification forms, such as passwords, biometrics, or token-based authentication, providing a robust defense against unauthorized entry.

Enabling MFA is pivotal because, even if an attacker manages to acquire an employee's password, they won't possess all the necessary credentials for access. This approach significantly limits the success of specific cyber attacks, particularly those involving account takeover, such as business email compromise.

Establish A Patch Management Policy

Given the rapid adoption of new technology in the healthcare sector, maintaining a robust patch management policy is imperative for your virtual medical assistants and in maintaining the cybersecurity of your healthcare systems. Unpatched technology poses a significant risk, providing attackers with potential entry points. Developing a formal patch management policy involves identifying high-priority systems (those most vulnerable if outdated) and assigning roles (determining who is responsible for finding and applying updates). This approach strengthens defenses against cyber attacks. By implementing this policy, you can proactively address vulnerabilities, enhance system integrity, and comply with regulatory standards.

Have An Incident Recovery Plan

Despite all preventative measures, cyber attacks can still occur. Attackers may persist, finding ways into your systems over time. This underscores the importance of disaster recovery plans, especially in the healthcare industry, where the stakes involve life-or-death situations. A well-designed recovery plan includes regular backups of critical data, facilitating quick retrieval of essential files and the prompt resumption of operations after an attack. The choice of a backup solution should align with your organization's unique needs.

Continuous Network Monitoring

The most effective strategy for ensuring the security of your VMAs is continuous monitoring of your network, cloud-based services (such as electronic medical records systems), Internet of Things (IoT) devices like wearable devices, and endpoints (including workstations). This comprehensive monitoring becomes increasingly vital as hybrid work environments, combining in-office and remote work (VMAs), gain popularity. Implementing the right solution provides end-to-end visibility, making it easier to detect and respond to cyber threats early, minimizing potential damage.


Your patients depend on you. A single cyber-attack can put your patients at risk and impact your ability to deliver quality care if their personal information is compromised. Neglecting basic cybersecurity principles can expose your virtual medical assistants to security breaches. The cybersecurity readiness of your virtual medical assistants is not just a proactive measure; it's a crucial defense against potential threats. Fortunately, implementing robust cybersecurity measures to protect your patient's health information is easy — you just need adequate information and tools.  Therefore, it is imperative to have a comprehensive and robust cybersecurity strategy to safeguard both the patients and the viability of your organization.