Jul 30, 2019

Summer 2019 enews: Practice Management Today - Balancing increased connectivity and cybersecurity

Advances in technology continue to shape the practice of medicine in Canada, and small- and medium-sized clinics are at the forefront of this evolution. Presently between 75%–80% of physicians use electronic records and 38%–47% offer patients at least one e-service [1]. Still Canadians, particularly those who belong to younger generations, want more technology in healthcare.

Despite the growing desire for more connectivity with their healthcare providers, patients are concerned about privacy with so much of their personal health data online [2]. For their part, many physicians who are interested in expanding the use of technology in their practice to enhance patient care find themselves faced with a number of challenges, not the least of which is safeguarding patient health information.

Enabling virtual care and electronic communication with patients

A May 2018 survey found that 7 in 10 Canadians say they would take advantage of ‘virtual’ physician visits, and over half of them would prefer to do so for more than half of their physician visits, citing convenience and better overall care [2]. Indeed, virtual care can have many benefits including easier triaging of minor medical concerns from the point of view of clinicians and improved access to care for Canadians living in remote locations or those with physical limitations.

Despite patient demand for electronic communication with their healthcare team and the growing popularity of virtual clinics and e-consultation services in the Canadian market offering almost instantaneous care, physicians in Canada have been slow to implement these services. A recent 10-country survey of primary care physicians saw Canada rank last in offering their patients the option of emailing about a medical question [3].

In early 2020, a taskforce that includes the Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada will provide recommendations to address the barriers to virtual care in Canada, particularly those related to regulatory issues surrounding cross-jurisdictional care and the sharing of health information [4].

Whatever this new regulatory landscape might look like, expanding the use of electronic communication with patients and providing virtual care must go hand in hand with changes in a practice’s security culture.

Prioritizing cybersecurity

With the expansion of virtual care and electronic communication, the issue of cybersecurity becomes even more important. Currently, the number, significance, and complexity of cyberattacks is increasing in Canada and globally [5] and CMPA members have alerted the association about ransomware incidents affecting their practices and EMR systems. The consequences of a cyber-attack are significant, in terms of interruptions in practice administration and cost – both financial and to a physician or clinic’s reputation. Furthermore, healthcare professionals are realizing that cybersecurity is a patient safety issue rather than just an administrative concern [6].

In the U.S., particular attention has been paid to cybersecurity risks faced by small medical practices given the unique vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities stem from limited internal expertise and resources in cybersecurity. This is reflected in a desire for shared security management solutions [6]—a situation that is likely similar for small- and medium-sized clinics in Canada.

A 2017 survey by HealthcareCAN found that 86% of HealthCareCAN members said that their organization has detected a breach or narrowly avoided incident [5]. Since then Canadian organizations including HealthcareCAN, ITAC Health, Canada Health Infoway, Digital Health Canada, and CIHR have initiatives underway to raise awareness of these evolving risks.

Saegis’s Cybersecurity Solution is coming soon

At Saegis, our goal is to turn those challenges into opportunities and help practices improve their processes, systems, cultures and more. For example, in the fall of 2019, we will begin offering an online cybersecurity and privacy risk management and education platform for small and medium-size clinics. Check back soon for more information about the Saegis Cybersecurity Solution.



[1] Canada Health Infoway. 2018 Canadian Physician Survey 2018 Canadian Physician Survey: Physicians’ Use of Digital Health and Information Technologies in Practice.Dec 2018.

[2] Ipsos and the Canadian Medical Association. “Shaping the Future of Health and Medicine.” Aug. 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/Activities/Shaping%20the%20Future%20of%20Health%20and%20Medicine.pdf

[3] Osborn R, Moulds D, Schneider E, et al. Primary care physicians in ten countries report challenges caring for patients with complex health needs. Health Aff 34;12:2104– 12

[4] Vogel L. Task force launching to examine national licensure for virtual care. CMAJ April 15, 2019 191 (15) E429; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.1095738

[5] HealthcareCAN. Cybersafe Healthcare—Options for strengthening cybersecurity in Canada’s health sector. Apr 22, 2018. Available at: http://www.healthcarecan.ca/wp-content/themes/camyno/assets/document/Cyber%20Security/Options%20Brief%20Summit%20Report.pdf

[6] The American Medical Association. Patient safety: the importance of cybersecurity in health care [infographic] 2018


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