Digital Value in the Healthcare Industry

With Effective Security, Healthcare Organizations Can Take Advantage of Opportunities to Enable Innovation and Growth with Greater Speed, Efficiency, and Agility

To address the global shortage of pediatric specialists in many rural areas and around the world, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital enables remote clinical interactions for pediatric care. Using high-quality video conferencing, network-connected medical devices, and a virtual patient network, clinical data, patients, doctors and specialists are now connecting to offer better care to children. The University of Virginia Center for Telehealth is also accelerating healthcare delivery, increasing access to specialty services, and providing training to physicians. From Spanish tele-interpretation services to video consultations and virtual meetings, the center is optimizing patient care while increasing productivity for UVA’s healthcare workers.

These are just a couple of examples of how the healthcare industry is embracing digital transformation. In fact, Forrester’s Global Business Technographics Business and Technology Services Survey, 2015 found that 53% of healthcare organization respondents are currently undergoing a digital transformation – more than any other sector – while 26% are exploring such an initiative. These organizations realize that while digitization is disruptive, it also provides enormous opportunity to drive value, including improving patient experience and reducing operational costs. Let’s take a closer look at five of the trends in healthcare that are motivating digital transformation.

1. Rising healthcare costs are driving digital transformation but leaving the healthcare industry struggling to keep pace with security risk. Recognizing this gap, bad actors increasingly set their sights on healthcare providers. For years healthcare has lagged other industries in security investments; in tools, technologies and specialized security staff making the industry an easy target. With demand for security professionals outstripping supply by a factor of 12 to 1, healthcare faces a daunting challenge to hire and retain the quality security talent it needs to defend against attacks. What’s more, healthcare information is extremely lucrative for hackers, fetching 10 times more than credit card information on the black market. Patient records can command such a return as they include not just financial information but personally identifiable information as well as insurance and prescription information. Medical records are also highly prized because that data is valid for life and compromises are more difficult to detect. Just to put this in context—in contrast, banks have sophisticated controls in place to identify unusual activity in bank accounts and to quickly detect and cancel stolen credit cards. The healthcare industry is well aware of the significant financial and reputational costs when patient records are breached. The industry is also waking up to the increased risk to patient safety; a DDoS or ransomware attack can restrict access to clinical information systems that are essential to render care.

2. Electronic health records are another driver of digital transformation. The meaningful use and exchange of information for more efficient and accurate diagnosis is requiring healthcare providers to digitize patient information and improve interoperability of digital health systems. Hospitals are being encouraged by the government to integrate discrete, standalone systems to enable the sharing of information between different providers and, ultimately, improve quality of care and patient outcomes.

3. Administrative operational systems and standalone clinical treatment systems must also talk to each other to help streamline operations and improve patient care, particularly as new reimbursement models emerge. Better collaboration and communication across the organization, improves workflow so clinicians and administrators can share data and gain efficiencies while maintaining quality care.

4. New service delivery models from telehealth and telemedicine to the emergence of robotic surgery are also driving digital transformation. Multi-gigabit, highly resilient medical-grade networks are required to support the next level of services that not only improve the patient experience and outcomes, but also offer more cost-effective and efficient care for patients in remote locations, or for those who are home-bound.

5. Medical devices are becoming more pervasive and essential for the reliable, affordable delivery of quality care. Spurred by innovation, an aging population, and extended life expectancies, the worldwide market for medical devices such as heart monitors, morphine and insulin pumps, to deliver care, and CT scanners, X-ray and MRI machines for diagnosis, is expected to grow 25% by 2020 according to the 2016 International Trade Association Medical Devices Top Markets Report.

The healthcare industry has a lot to gain by digital transformation. However it also has a lot to lose if it doesn’t start with security as a foundation. Instead of being bolted on as an afterthought and getting in the way of rendering care, it has to be built into processes and workflows making it seamless for clinicians, administrators, and patients. Without the appropriate security controls and expertise in place, healthcare organizations risk breaches that require directing funds to fines, restitution, and punitive damages that could put some institutions out of business, leading to further declines in patient care. Patient confidence and trust could also erode, leading some patients to not be honest with their caregivers or even avoid seeking treatment.

With effective security, the healthcare industry can take advantage of new opportunities to enable innovation and growth with greater speed, efficiency, and agility. Hospitals can reduce operational costs, adopt new service delivery models, improve the quality and efficiency of care, decrease inpatient volume, and shift to new reimbursement models. At the same time, patients and their families benefit from a better experience and better outcomes. By starting the journey with an approach that puts security first, the prognosis for digital value in the healthcare industry is extremely positive.

This article was co-authored with Ashley Arbuckle, VP of Security Services at Cisco and was also published by Security Week.

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