When a health care organization has a data breach, or a pending malpractice, fraud case or disaster, there is a need for a software-supported process that can get answers about where data went and what happened to it.

Digital forensics-the use of scientific methodology to introduce computer data into actual or potential litigation-relies on "using the best computer techniques in a way that you could go to court and clearly and irrefutably explain what you did," says Winston Krone, managing director at Kivu Consulting, which specializes in investigative, discovery and analysis services. "It's also preserving evidence and making sure that the procedures you do don't change the evidence."

The science-and art-of digital forensics is increasingly coming into play in health care as the industry becomes digitized and requirements for analyzing data breaches and other information mishaps, and collecting data for legal purposes become more stringent and complex.

There are a number of legal, financial and technological considerations to take into account during forensics investigations, experts say.

But they also advise to not wait until a problem occurs to start analyzing forensics resources on the market. Health I.T. leaders first need to understand the methodology and limitations of forensics technology, and then figure out how to ballpark their exposure to data breaches and litigation, and analyze the costs involved in fulfilling their legal obligations.

A feature story from Joe Goedert in Health Data Management’s May issue, “A Little C.S.I. for Health I.T.,” explains how data forensics works, and gives examples for breach and malpractice cases, lessons learned, and its costs.

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