The crucial role of website security in maintaining the bond of trust with your patients

A strong bond of trust between a dental office and its patients is imperative, and it takes time to establish a solid reputation among the community that the practice serves. All this hard work can be put in jeopardy by just one oversight: failing to ensure your dental websites are secure.

Oct 9th, 2017
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IN OUR LAST ARTICLE, we talked about how vital it is that you secure your dental website. Here we go over another benefit of website security, the bond of trust with your patients!

A strong bond of trust between a dental office and its patients is imperative, and it takes time to establish a solid reputation among the community that the practice serves. All this hard work can be put in jeopardy by just one oversight: failing to ensure your dental websites are secure.

When your patients walk through the door of your dental office, they expect to be treated with respect by your team. When they sit back in the dental chair, they are putting their faith in your professionalism and expertise. They apply the same criteria when they engage with you in the digital world.

Damage to reputation is considered the most harmful impact of a business cyber breach, according to PwC, the world's leading professional services firm. Most of your existing clients and prospective new patients will be sufficiently tech-savvy to see a red flag if your website shows signs of a lack of security measures. They will probably have read countless horror stories about hackers gaining access to sensitive customer information. If prospective patients don’t feel safe when visiting your website, the won’t respond to a call to action such as making an appointment request.

Why data thieves target dental records

In 2015, a cyberattack on communications company TalkTalk highlighted the ease with which criminals can steal online details about people. The data haul included more than 20,000 bank account numbers and sort codes. In November 2016, a 17-year-old boy admitted his part in the digital raid, saying he had been “just showing off.” (1) The previous month, the company had been fined £400,000 (about $488,000) for the security failure.

It’s not only the online platforms of big corporations such as TalkTalk that are under constant threat of security breaches. Any website without security is a potential target as hackers seek sites that are vulnerable to data breaching as well as for concealing malware. Data thieves are increasingly targeting small businesses such as dental practices, regarding their digital records as easy pickings, compared with the protection afforded by exhaustive security measures taken by multinational companies. (TalkTalk, take note!) Health-care websites are among the most common to come under attack from cyber criminals.

At the start of 2017, Becker’s Healthcare, a legal and business resource for healthcare bosses, said data breaches were costing the US health industry more than $6 billion a year. (2) In 2015, details of over 15,000 patients were accessed from a US dental practice when its computer succumbed to malware. (3)

Electronic health records (EHRs) of dental patients provide a goldmine for cyber crooks—they are a wealth of information, including postal and email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, banking details, Social Security numbers, and health histories. EHRs represent a comprehensive ID package. In the hands of experienced data poachers, a stolen identity can be used to carry out a variety of crimes, including fraudulent insurance claims. Perpetrators of digital ID theft often repeatedly sell patients’ records on the dark web, where transactions cannot be traced. Electronic health records are far more valuable to cyber-criminals than financial information on its own. They can be presented in different packages that are highly attractive to swindlers looking for sensitive information to sell on an ongoing basis.

The importance of website security for small businesses was underscored in an article for the Business Journals by a leading figure in the field. (4) Kirk Hall, a member of the Certificate Authority Security Council (CASC), which comprises leading global certificate authorities that seek to establish best practices in SSL advancements and internet security in general, said that if small companies failed to prioritize web security, they would lose business as both existing and potential clients looked towards their competitors who safeguarded the private information of their web visitors.

How to protect your website

So, how can your dental practice protect itself and your patients against digital theft? You can ensure your practice’s website is secure by using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS). These technologies set up a coded connection between your site and the patient’s browser. Your patients will see that your website is protected because your web address will be preceded by the a “Secure | https” tag. An Extended Validation (EV) certificate will show your patients that your website is protected by the maximum level of authentication to thwart fraudsters—your practice’s name will be displayed in green in the browser address bar on your patients’ computers.

From October 2017, Google Chrome will display a “Not Secure” message when anyone begins to fill out a form on a page that’s served up over HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) instead of HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure). On the other hand, if you have the “Secure | https” inscription, it will help to boost your rankings in Google’s search engine results pages.

However, SSL and TLS won’t stop direct attacks on computers and servers, so the server needs its own security precautions, and the computer requires strong antivirus software. Because malware can infect both computers and websites, it can damage your patients’ devices as well as your online platform. Automatic virus scanners are widely available and will alert you to any potential problems. As a further precaution, your website software should be updated regularly. Your practice team also need to be aware of the risks of clicking on dubious email links, which can lead to malware assaults and phishing attempts.

A trustworthy website will enhance your reputation

Your dental website may be well designed and search engine optimized, contain glowing testimonials and valuable, informative content for your patients and prospective patients. However, all this will be of no avail if your web visitors are not satisfied that your online platform is as trustworthy as your practice itself.

Ensuring that patients can place their trust in your website plays a key role in the reputation of your practice, and the ongoing wave of web security breaches means that the issue is more important than ever to your online visitors. It’s not enough to know that your website is secure, the point has to be made to your patients, through devices such as an SSL certificate.

The web consists of an intricate network of interactions, with data travelling across many servers before reaching its ultimate destination. If this information is not adequately protected throughout its digital journey, any one of these systems can fall foul to cyber criminals. Trust is vital between a dental office and its patients, and website security is imperative to ensure the bond is not damaged. If your patients feel they cannot put their faith in you online, they are likely to apply the same reasoning to your standards of oral health care.

Besides maintaining the trust of your existing patients, dental website security will give potential new patients the confidence to get in touch via your contact form, safe in the knowledge that their personal and health details cannot be hijacked.


References

1. Boy, 17, admits TalkTalk hacking offences. BBC News website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37990246. Published November 15, 2016. Accessed August 2017.
2. Dietsche E. Healthcare breaches cost $6.2B annually. Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review website. http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/healthcare-breaches-cost-6-2b-annually.html. Published January 19, 2017. Accessed August 2017.
3. Greenberg A. More than 150K patients impacted in Advantage Dental Breach. SC Media website. https://www.scmagazine.com/more-than-150k-patients-impacted-in-advantage-dental-breach/article/535820/. Accessed August 2017.
4. Hall K. How to secure your website and build trust with your customers. The Business Journals website. https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/technology/2015/05/build-trust-by-securing-your-website.html. Published May 14, 2015. Accessed August 2017.


John Marks is the chief operations officer for DentalROI, a digital dental marketing company with over 20 years’ experience in creating secure dental websites. He is a pioneer when it comes to Online Security Development for Dental Websites. For more information, email him at john@dentalroi.com or visit www.dentalroi.com.


Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions. Subscribe to the Apex360 e-newsletter here.


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