Healthcare News & Insights

It’s the digital era: Make sure your healthcare tech meets the demands

When it comes to the use of technology in health care, connectivity is constantly evolving. In this guest post, Susan McReynolds, vertical strategy manager for a communications networking provider, offers three of the most notable strategies, policies and solutions to adopting critical-care technologies without falling victim to hackers.

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Digital transformation has become health care’s answer to improving care quality and extending that care to a greater number of people – and the implications of such a transformation are extremely exciting. For instance, through digitized data and sophisticated technology, we can distill health patterns at the population level. We can feed new learning into real-time decision support tools, improving care outcomes and the success of preventive measures.

Digitized information and connected health technology help us scale high-quality care and the expertise of specialists, regardless of geography. This is a life-changing benefit for the elderly, chronically ill and rural patient populations who find it difficult or impossible to travel for medical care.

This potential is also spurring further innovation with even more digitization of healthcare data. Patients are engaging more with mobile and wearable health devices, and providers are adopting more sophisticated technology to take advantage of it. Across the field, healthcare providers seek to improve outcomes by digitizing intelligence, enabling accessibility and accelerating innovation.

With that innovation, however, comes new and evolving security requirements. You may be able to extend your services across vast distances, but bad actors can now cross the same distances just as easily. Despite its potential, digitized healthcare information can only accelerate innovation if it’s protected, which means cybersecurity must be critical in any new technology you deploy.

New roles of healthcare technology

Today, a large percentage of patients rely on wearable health devices, and that helps doctors monitor and track patient health from home. From diagnostic imaging and processing to everyday health concerns, technology is becoming more integrated in the course of patients’ health care.

Within healthcare facilities, however, connected technology plays an exponentially larger role. Consequently, the security of these systems is vital to your organization’s ability to provide care. For instance, if access to electronic health records is suddenly unavailable, your facility will hit a literal standstill. If a surgeon loses access to an MRI in the middle of surgery or a remote monitoring system goes down, lives can be put at immediate risk.

In a broader sense, healthcare IT security has traditionally meant ensuring that patients’ sensitive health information stays protected. Now, however, Internet of Things-connected technology has become a significant part of the modern healthcare continuum. Therefore, securing that technology 24/7 can be a matter of life or death for the patients who rely on it.

Securing the future of healthcare IT

Connected technology is rapidly changing the landscape of modern health care. For this and many other reasons, health care is a popular target for malicious actors looking to exploit security weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Thus, the rapid adoption of care-critical technologies must be met with sophisticated and well-funded security strategies, policies and solutions. And while many factors exist, these three are the most notable:

1. Consider bimodal or hybrid IT strategies

While it tests new technology solutions, your organization must be agile to handle application bursts and unpredictable functions. This is why many facilities have invested in cloud computing and hybrid infrastructures. In fact, investments in this space are expected to exceed $216 billion by 2020. However, your organization also needs to ensure consistent, predictable system performance at all times.

Bimodal (or hybrid) IT strategies incorporate in-house and cloud-computing technologies to ensure both agility and stability as you navigate the new healthcare IT landscape. SD-WAN (software-defined wireless area network) is another measure that alleviates backhaul requirements and provides agile and reliable connectivity to cloud-based applications, enhancing user experience. Integrated next-generation firewalls and unified threat management (UTM) services can also enable detailed traffic inspection, increased visibility and unified threat analytics across the healthcare WAN.

2. Update security strategies and investments

With more potentially vulnerable endpoints and an expanding attack surface, security should be wired into any healthcare organization’s DNA, rather than being siloed to a specific group or department. Every employee is responsible for understanding and delivering the best security practices, starting at the top. Boards and C-suite executives must funnel investments to enable proactive threat intelligence and cyberattack mitigation tools.

Benchmark where your organization stands by conducting internal phishing tests and by working with best-of-breed partners to gauge and prioritize areas of increased risk. This will help healthcare organizations deploy and allocate resources to mitigate the riskiest exposures. Remember, it isn’t just about protecting information anymore; it’s about protecting care continuity and the well-being of your patients.

3. Leverage best-of-breed partners

Your organization specializes in health care, not IT security, so choose best-of-breed partners you can trust and utilize their expertise. Whether they’re security partners, analytics engines, or wearable tech vendors, ensure your partners have a purview into the global threat landscape and can supply actionable, prioritized information.

Work with network infrastructure players that can connect to leading cybersecurity practitioners (and can demonstrate constant and consistent uptime to support your operations). They should also have robust built-in security measures and invest in on-net builds for your most critical care sites.

The digital transformation sweeping through healthcare promises major potential for medical innovation, breakthroughs and the improved collective health of the nation. However, leveraging the many benefits of a more connected healthcare system requires integrating new tools and approaches into the care continuum. Maintaining a secure infrastructure and deploying advanced security controls throughout the technology stack is essential for protecting data amid ongoing disruption.

In the role of vertical strategy manager for CenturyLink, Susan McReynolds works with customers, analysts, and industry leaders to keep a pulse on the IT trends and challenges facing today’s healthcare and retail enterprises.

 

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