The future of healthcare is arriving at light speed in the form of tech innovations bursting with potential to upend how care is delivered and consumed—ultimately reducing costs, improving patient outcomes, and ensuring more equitable access to services globally. As organizations speed up their digital transformations and push closer to realizing these dreams, they must remain vigilant to security risks that imperil progress and ensure their systems are robust enough to handle new technology. With IT teams stretched thin thanks to COVID-19 response, hackers are hungrily circling.
The imperative of digital transformation
A dizzying list of tipping-point breakthroughs and novel applications are landing in the present day from their stratospheric heights of theoretical possibility. From 3D-printed organs to AI-driven medical diagnoses, there are many technologies pioneering state-of-the-art caregiving. Even ingestible “smart” pills have arrived, part of a new class of tech called the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), which includes sensors embedded in medical devices and wearables.
These promising technologies, and others like robotics, nanotech, cloud, and quantum computing, will be familiar to anyone keeping their finger on the pulse of how healthcare may soon be transformed. These technologies are hovering over nearly every sector of our economy, materializing in day-to-day operations whether you are a manufacturer, a financier, or a retailer.
In fact, the world’s struggles with COVID-19 have squeezed previously unhurried plans for digital transformation into pressure-cooked timelines spanning mere days and weeks for many organizations. Entrenched roadblocks to progress like legal barriers, basic assumptions, and fear of lost competitiveness have crumbled by desperate necessity.
A prime example of these trends has been the sudden acceptance of telemedicine, which the healthcare industry has long flirted with but never eagerly embraced until now. Others include the widespread adoption of digitally enabled practices like remote patient monitoring, using technology to ensure compliant social distancing and contactless engagement, and the acceptance of virtual collaboration tools. And if you doubt that medical facilities will ever fully espouse a truly digital destiny, I present exhibit A: a high-tech, paperless hospital that offers a successful blueprint for facilities of the future.
Clear and present dangers
All of these technologies require a robust IT backbone to support their deployment and use, as well as to protect against the worrisome shadow of cyber threats. All of them will create prolific troves of data (much of it personal) that will prove irresistible to cybercriminals—who, by the way, are already laser-focused on the healthcare industry.
Hospitals and clinics are plum targets for heartless hackers because patient data is needed for life-or-death decision-making, and often needed quickly. The value of this data can literally be measured with human lives. Medical facilities are particularly vulnerable to a type of threat known as ransomware attacks—where trojans infiltrate victim networks and encrypt the data, rendering them unusable until a ransom is paid. In fact, just a few days ago, the FBI warned of imminent ransomware attacks against hospitals, and a handful of care facilities have already fallen victim. With COVID-19 stretching the bandwidth of harried IT teams, the calculus of hackers has been that now is the time to maximize profits. As a result, healthcare organizations everywhere have been reporting a worrisome uptick in threat activity.
As IT departments are being asked to do more with less, laying a secure (yet flexible) IT foundation is critical, not only to protect against cyber threats, but also to ensure that new digital technology investments perform at their peak. Ensuring this foundation is intuitive, easily managed from afar, and extensible with APIs and turnkey integrations can give IT admins peace of mind. Not only will they be able to support their networks without overwhelming them, but they’ll also have future-proofed their investments with a platform that can respond with new options and offerings when market demands arise. No one wants to substantially invest in solutions that are one-offs or that need to be tossed after a year or two of use because they’ve become rigid and out-of-date.
Necessity is the mother
Inventions have a way of arriving at their most critical hour of need, whether vaccine or VPN. For IT heroes bravely holding the line against malware hordes and the physical threats of a merciless pandemic, thoughtfully deployed technology can make all the difference to the tide of battle.
The efforts that hospitals and clinics are making to become more digital, more connected, and more actively data-driven are only the beginning. The pace of change speeds merrily along whether we want it to or not, and organizations that dig in their heels by resisting digital transformation and dismissing new methods of caregiving may soon find themselves obsolete in ways that hamper their broader missions and goals. But for those organizations seeking to be well-positioned to capitalize on the cost savings, efficiencies, and healthier patient outcomes that nearly-here innovations will unlock, investing in digital transformation and smart IT platforms is a good first step.