How secure is the information you store on your handheld pda? If you’re like most doctors, you probably haven’t considered this question. In fact, you probably aren’t even taking the simplest steps to keep the data on your device safe.

Until recently, doctors only used handheld PDAs as diaries and electronic phone books.

 The security risks of information on the handheld pda are high as doctors today use handheld computers to keep track of patient data that they import from electronic patient record systems or write themselves.

HIPAA regulations require you to take reasonable steps to protect the security and confidentiality of patient information, but there’s an even more fundamental reason to think about security: imagine you’ve forgotten your handheld pda in a hospital canteen or at Starbucks and someone can easily open files with sensitive patient information.

The good news is that with minimal effort,

You can make the information stored on your handheld pda much more secure than the paper cards and notes you carry around with you. With a few simple commands you can activate the built-in password protection that is standard on most handheld pda. And if you’re more ambitious, there is a wide range of inexpensive products available that offer even more protection.

Here’s an overview of some of the security strategies you can use to protect the clinical data on your handheld PDA, from the high-tech approaches of big companies to the low-cost apps you can buy.

How long it will take?

Security analysts say the portability of handheld computers is both a blessing and a curse. Small computers can be taken anywhere, so not only are they easy to use but also very easy to lose.

Most machines have built-in password protection programs that allow users to “lock” certain documents or the entire device. Activate this function and you will have to enter a password to access individual documents. You can also configure your handheld PDA so that it asks for a password when it starts up.

(On Palm devices, you can enable security features by going to the security icon on the home screen and following the instructions.)

There is some debate as to whether these established practices are sufficient to protect clinical information. Security experts argue that the passwords generated by the handheld PDA can be easily neutralized with widely used hacking software. They say that if your password is cracked, all the data on your computer will be available.

For this reason,

Companies that connect handheld PDAs to hospital information systems use encryption technology that is more secure and harder to crack. Many of these larger systems also offer a second layer of security that encrypts all data that the handheld PDA receives from the hospital system. It is believed that even if someone cracks your password, the data on your computer will be encrypted and require significantly more effort to access.

The aim is to draw the attention of potential attackers to system-wide systems that archive data on all hospital patients and not just an incomplete list of a doctor’s patients. While information about these large systems is just as sensitive, the servers behind the scenes can run much more powerful security applications than their smaller counterparts.

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