When digital transformation is a matter of life and death

When hackers could put patients’ lives at risk, why is it still essential for healthcare providers to embrace digital tech?

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post exploring the security risks posed by the growing number of connected devices being used in healthcare. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like that post may have understated both the possible risks and the potential benefits of digital connectivity becoming increasingly prevalent in this sector.

Simply put, cybersecurity breaches could interfere with patient care, possibly leading to preventable fatalities. On the other hand, the opportunities presented by emerging digital technologies like the Internet of Things are too good to turn down because they could lead to significantly better patient care and more saved lives.

So, how do you ensure the rewards outweigh the risks?

Ransomware and critical care

First of all, let’s have a quick reality check about the risks that the connected world can pose to healthcare providers and their patients. Obviously, the more mission-critical medical databases, applications and hardware devices are directly connected to or indirectly accessible from the Internet, the greater risk there is of hackers being able to interfere with these technologies.

Who would actually want to put lives at risk in this way? Terrorists? Maybe but evidence shows that regular old cyber criminals are perfectly willing to get blood on their hands. Consider that nearly 97 percent of the trusts that run various parts of the National Health Service in England recently reported that they had been subject to ransomware attacks in the past 12 months.

Don’t underestimate the impact a ransomware attack can have on a healthcare provider. Having patient data locked up by hackers is not a mere administrative inconvenience―it will inevitably affect patient care and could possibly cost lives. With attacks so common and the potential consequences so dire, why expose healthcare systems to the Internet?

Digital transformation saves lives

Clearly, healthcare organizations are prepared to expose their systems in this way. A study published by CA Technologies earlier this year found that 66 percent of healthcare organizations were undergoing digital transformation projects. With patient safety and privacy being absolutely paramount, this statistic clearly demonstrates that healthcare sees huge benefit in digital.

Digital healthcare technology makes it possible to access more accurate information, quicker―allowing doctors, caregivers, insurers and patients to make more effective decisions in a timely manner. For patients, it delivers greater transparency. For healthcare professionals, it means being able to provide more effective care, sooner.

Take the example of Amerigroup, which used APIs to create a mobile app that made it possible for staff to efficiently assess the needs of Medicare recipients in their homes and other places of care. Or consider BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which provides its members with 24-hour online access to a range of tools designed to optimize quality of care.

Give your security a full check-up

It is in the nature of healthcare providers that technologies of this kind, which rely on connectivity and the opening up of IT systems, would not be deployed without strong security measures also being put in place. But it is also in the nature of the digital world for threats to mutate and proliferate just as fast, if not faster, than the technologies they target.

How, then, do healthcare organizations stay one step ahead of the bad guys?

A good start would be to partner with an enterprise-level security software vendor that is agile enough to deliver new solutions as and when threats emerge. Right now, for example, that vendor should be able to supply privileged access management, advanced authentication, API security and other cutting-edge technologies.

Sam Macklin is a Marketing Communications Analyst at CA Technologies and the API Academy, specializing…


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