Anaesthetists deal with a large amount of patient health data. As such, it’s incredibly important for you to maintain a high level of security.
Often, it’s tricky to know if you’re doing everything possible to ensure the security of your work or data. We’ve provided our list of top security practices, in the hope that these may help you in both your professional and personal life.
1. Delete Old Data
Whether you shred old patient notes or delete patient files from your computer, once you’ve finished with medical data, you’re best destroying it. You can do this in one of two ways:
- Manually – Every doctor’s home office should have a good cross cut shredder. This way, you can easily destroy any old paperwork, including old receipts and bank statements, as well as patient files. We use one by Fellowes. We’ve had to return a few different models over the years, so we now stick with Fellowes. We only buy them from Good Guys, or Officeworks as we’ve found them very good with returns, in case we should need to send another one back.
- Digitally – Delete emailed pre-op forms once the operation’s over. And empty your computer trash and also cache regularly. Only keep patient information that you think you’ll need again in the future.
- Others – Shred your junk mail and remove any addresses from parcels. Completely wipe hard drives before you sell your devices or give them away. Run the delete process multiple times to be sure it works.
2. Label everything
We’re always surprised at how few people do this. It only takes a moment to put a sticker on your belongings. Consider the following:
- Is your work bag labelled with your phone number?
- What about your car keys?
- Is your partners number written on the back of your phone?
- Do you use a notebook to store patient info? If so, please label it!
- Is there anything else you take into your surgery, like Bose headphones? Label these items, too!
- And don’t forget to label your drivers license. We once received a phone call late on a Saturday night from a city hotel that had found one of our members’ wallets. Thankfully, the hotel had googled the Anaesthetist’s name and found him on our site. They then called us. It was easy for us to get in touch with him and let him know where his wallet was. Of course, he was frantically searching for it when we called! Stick your number, or your partner’s number, on your license. This will go some way to ensuring you do get it back if it’s found.
- Which labeller? We use a great label writer at home—the Dymo Labelwriter 450. Alternatively, you can use your children’s school labels. We label all our children’s items with our phone number. It’s easy to use these stickers for our possessions, too.
3. Set-up Two-step Verification
Use this for your online files, banking and email – Gmail (instructions here), Dropbox (instructions here) and most banks now offer two-step verification (also called two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication) which allows you to lock down your accounts. To log into your account from a new device, you’ll not only need your username and password, but you’ll also be sent a text message with a special code to enter.
4. Activate (some) Tracking Software
What would you do if you lost your phone? Could you find it easily? If you have an iPhone, then you have an app called ‘Find My’ that allows you to log into your computer and see exactly where your phone was last spotted.
You can also activate ‘lost mode’ and remotely erase the contents of your phone. It can also Find your Friends which is very handy if you need to find your partner’s phone or even see when they are on their way home. Once, we left one of our phones in an Uber. Luckily we had this app and we could see exactly where it was and call the driver directly.
Track your devices too: Use a handy gadget like ‘Tile’ or the ‘Air Tag‘ by Apple to track the location of your keys. You can even place one of these in your car, on your bike, your stethoscope or even on your child’s pram, ensuring you can find your valuables if they ever get lost. Also make sure your phone number or label is on them too!
5. But .. Turn Some Tracking Off
Turn off geo-location on social media – Did you know that social media platforms are created with embedded geo-locators? But you can toggle them off. This can help protect your online photos too – nobody will know where your photos were taken if you don’t want them to.
Fake your home address – While you’re at it, set the home address in your smartphone and car GPS systems to an address near your home (a fake address), but not to your actual home address.
6. Cover your Webcam
When you’re not using your webcam, cover it with a post-it note. You can also go into your settings and restrict which apps can access your webcam and microphone too.
Likewise, block people’s view of your hand when entering alarm codes, PIN numbers, and any other sensitive information.
7. Change your Phone Pin Regularly
Change your phone pin regularly. If you have inquisitive children like ours, chances are you’ll need to change your password every few weeks anyway (or even more often). Another great idea is to set up ‘Guided Access’ if you let your children use your phone.
While changing your pin you can set your phone up to delete all of its stored data if too many failed access attempts are made.
8. Use Unique Passwords for Every Single Login
Use long passwords with a mixture of characters. Try to change your passwords often, don’t use actual words and, if possible, keep them unique to each account. Or even better, use encrypted password software to ensure password safety. We like Bitwarden.
If this is too much to manage, you could choose a default password and, each time, add a unique code at the beginning, specific to the account. e.g “An@esthet1(” would become “FBAn@esthet1(” for Facebook and “IGAn@esthet1(” for Instagram
9. Use Different Usernames / Email Addresses
If you’re like most people, you use the same username and password for every website. That makes your account vulnerable to a whole host of security threats. Consider using different usernames for every login—it’s easy to do if you’ve got a password manager (like Bitwarden) to remember it.
Go one step further and consider using a different email address too. For members on a Premium Plan you receive a domain name and a catchall email account so firstname.lastname@example.org can go to you. Read more here. The benefit of this is if a phishing email claiming to be from your bank comes to an account you use only for social media, you know it’s fake. Now anyone trying to get into your account must guess both the username and password.
10. Lock your Study Door
Where do you keep all your patient paperwork? If you have any prescription drugs at home, can your children reach them?
We have a lock on our study door that makes it easy for us to keep everything contained. This will be especially useful if you ever have tradespeople, babysitters or cleaners come into your home when you’re not there. What’s more, it’s essential if you have small children around. We use the below code handle lock, but any similar device would no doubt do the trick:
11. Consider Video Motion Sensors
With specialist devices, securing your home is easier than ever before. We use ‘Ring’ as a doorbell and have motion sensors in our garage and placed all around the outside of our home, acting as sensor lights. They can send you a mobile notification to alert you if someone enters your property or when there is a parcel at the door. You can also set it up to make a noise within the house, using a connected ‘Chime’ device. We’ve been using Ring since 2017 and thoroughly love it.
12. Try a Modern Smoke Alarm
Smoke detectors are your first line of defence against fire and smoke damage. But not all smoke alarms are created equal – that’s why we love our Nest Protect. Not only does it detect smoke, but it can also detect carbon monoxide, which is important for anyone with a gas fireplace.
The Nest Protect smart smoke detector also sends alerts to your phone if it detects smoke or a fire (and it plays a loud sound on the detector and all other detectors in the house). It’s easy to install, tests itself and is easy to hush too. Plus it even has a night light.
13. Update your Software Regularly, but…
But don’t update it on the first major update. If Apple releases a new major software update, for example iOS 15.4, we always wait until at least the second iteration, for example 15.4.1 or 15.4.2, before we install it. We do this in case there are bugs in the major update, which does often happen.
14. Be Careful what you Click
If you receive an email link that looks remotely suspicious, don’t click it! If an uninvited stranger arrived on your doorstep, most likely you’d want to see some identification before you let them into your home. Be email safe – don’t open any files you aren’t expecting.
15. Install Anti-virus Protection
We like Avast but there are plenty of great, low cost (or free!) anti-virus programs available for both Windows and Mac. Make sure your system and files are safe from intruders and corruption. There’s nothing worse than having to start from scratch.
16. Backup your Data
Use cloud storage such as Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive to backup your data. It’s also a good idea to have two backup locations, just in case one fails.
If you also use USBs or external drives, make sure that they are protected with encryption and passphrases.
17. Auto Lock your Devices
If you walk away from your devices at work, your home office, or a coffee shop, you should lock them.
Turn on auto lock, shut your computers down and keep your backup devices locked away. Automatic locking is there to protect our unattended devices. You wouldn’t leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, so don’t risk your patients’ data by doing the same with your computer!
18. Don’t Share your Login, Passwords or Wi-Fi
Instead, set up a secondary profile for friends and family to use. We also recommend you do the same with your devices.
Put your main computer onto your primary Wi-Fi account, but connect other devices such as your security system, TV or guest devices to a second or third profile, with a different password. It’s also a good idea to choose a Wi-Fi password that is hard to guess, and a Wi-Fi name that won’t identify you or your home.
19. Use a VPN on Public Networks
Your IP address is a unique online identifier. IPs show which computer is accessing sites and its approximate location. By using a VPN when you’re out and about, you can hide your IP address and run all your online data via a secure and encrypted virtual tunnel. This tunnel will stop websites from tracking your online activity. A VPN will keep you much safer on public networks, such as those you may access in hospitals and airports. We use ‘Private Internet Access‘
20. Guard your Personal Data
There are so many dodgy callers out there, and they all claim to need your personal data to assist you with your phone bill, bank account etc. Never reward these unsolicited callers with your name, date of birth or address. If they called you, you have no idea who they could be.
And if that’s not enough to think about, avoid saying ‘yes’ when you’re on the phone to these callers, too. Sound crazy? Nowadays, there are even telephone scams that record your voice, in particular your ‘yes’, and use these clips to trick voice recognition software.
21. Double-Check Before Hitting Send
If you’ve ever sent a sensitive email to the wrong address, you know how devastating it can be. Imagine if that email contained a patient’s personal information. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Double check email addresses before you send any sensitive information – especially when forwarding on patient details. If you have never emailed the person before, ask them to email you first, or send them a test email and have them confirm via other means they received the email test.
We’ve also heard of people transferring large amounts of money .. to find they had an incorrect bank account digit. So, before sending large amounts, consider sending a small amount of money first to test the account.
Due to being sick with Covid, one Anaesthetist was unable to perform his busy regular list; he found a replacement Anaesthetist and gained written approval from patients that he could send their pre-op information on to the new Anaesthetist. He requested the new Anaesthetist to SMS his email address, and he transferred all the patient information on believing everything was finished.. but guess what – the new Anaesthetist never received them since he SMS’d the wrong email address!
The Anaesthetist not only was sick with Covid, but he now had to explain to every single one of the patients the privacy breach – and after all the hours he put in to pre-op, and now dealing with the breach, it was made worse by the fact that he wasn’t even going through with the list.
22. Have Backups, Ready to Go
Always have a backup internet connection tested and ready to use, even if it’s just your mobile phone data.
We found this out the hard way one day when we lost our internet, and I couldn’t connect to my mobile data because I hadn’t yet set it up on my new device. (It turned out I needed to simply pull out my ethernet cable to get it to work).
Also consider purchasing a home backup ‘power’ box. For some reason, our lovely leafy suburb is prone to losing power — a lot! Here are some great things to invest in: led torches (one per person), head flash lights, USB charges and great big extension cables (for when your neighbours have power and you don’t). If you already use the Bunnings brand Ozito for your power tools and have their battery packs, they make great power add-ons for them.
23. Other Random Security Tips
- Check if you’ve been hacked – Visit haveibeenpwned.com and search across multiple data breaches to see if your email address or phone number have been compromised;
- Give companies different birthdays. Only your bank should have your real birthday on file. Instead of using your true birthdate, use an alternative birthday for all other accounts, such as shopping loyalty cards etc.;
- Make payments with PayPal. If you’re shopping on a website for the first time, pay using PayPal rather than using your credit card details. PayPal offers great buyer protection should your item fail to arrive. What’s more, it’s usually very easy to claim;
- AT HOME:
- Don’t keep your insurance paperwork anywhere that’s easy for a thief to find it. One of our friends had all their valuables stolen when thieves found their insurance paperwork in their filing cabinet and used it to decide what was worth stealing;
- Use colour-coded locks on your doors, such as red and green, so you can easily see what remains to be locked up at night;
- Consider a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) for your home security system;
- Remove any labels from packaging, including prescription boxes, before you throw it out or recycle it. You don’t want someone discovering your name, address and phone number and that you just bought a really expensive computer or that you are a doctor and in possession of a drug they want;
- OUT AND ABOUT:
- Set your car to unlock only the driver’s side door, and lock your doors when you drive;
- If you’re parking in the city late at night, try to park outside a bank as they are usually well lit, busy and have cameras around them;
- Don’t park next to vans in parking lots;
- Clip your bag into your shopping trolley or behind your seat in restaurants;
- Don’t accept file “Air Drops” from people you don’t know – and tell your children not to either. It’s the modern version of flashing;
- Secure your hotel doors at night. If you have young children, consider getting a Qicklock (it doesn’t work on every door, but it works on many standard doors). Alternatively, please secure your accommodation doors at night by placing suitcases or glassware in front – I say this having experienced a terrifying event while visiting an Anaesthetic conference in South America. Fortunately, we woke up when the chime of the person’s key miraculously opened our digital hotel door at 2am.
- On that note, place a crumpled piece of tissue in the peephole of your door so people outside can’t see inside;
- Consider taking a fake wallet to use for small change and notes;
- If you’re going on holiday, don’t post it on social media. Or, at least, wait until you get home to tell everyone;
- Make it appear you’re home – if you’re going away, consider installing wifi smart plugs or timer switches connected to a TV or light;
- Teach your children and have drills like at school – everyone in your home should know the plan on what to do if there is a fire or a break in. And young children should know what to do if you are hurt or unresponsive;
- Place a sticker with your phone number inside your children’s shoes – then teach them to SIT DOWN if they get lost and take off one shoe and ask someone passing to call you. Whenever you go to a concert or big venue give them a pep talk on what to do if they get lost;
- Create a secret family phrase – If a family member is ever in trouble or afraid, saying a special code word or phrase can tip you off to an emergency;
- Be alert. If something feels off or doesn’t give you the right vibe, walk away from it. Always follow your gut instinct.
We hope these tips are useful to you and provide some valuable food for thought. If you have any questions, think we’ve missed anything important from our list, or have some handy tips of your own, we’d love to hear from you!