How smart hospitals are dealing with cybersecurity

The healthcare industry is using technology to improve the work of the sector's professionals and patients' lives - but how is it confronting cyber threats?

medical data accessed via tablet / healthcare IoT monitoring
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Is there a difference between going digital and becoming a smart hospital? Apparently, there is.

Dr Milind Sabnis, healthcare director at Frost & Sullivan, explained at the 9th Healthcare Innovation Summit that going digital and generating data is not enough.

Instead, healthcare institutions must be able to make sense of the data and derive actionable results to be successful.

“A smart hospital is a hospital that optimises, redesigns, and builds new clinical processes, management as well as infrastructure to provide a valuable service or an insight which was not there before, and in the process, help achieve better patient care, experience as well as operational efficiency”, he explained.

Senior stakeholders — from regulators, policymakers and healthcare institutions to practitioners and technology providers — agree that the pressure is on to integrate ICT and medical technologies into healthcare services effectively.

In Dr Sabnis' view, smart hospitals look into three areas of development to reduce operational costs, improve margins, reduce staff burden, increase the recovery rate, and improve satisfaction and experience of the patient.

First, they look at managing logistics more efficiently. Second, they make sure that their staff provides positive patient experiences through clinical excellence. And third, they introduce innovative services and technology initiatives to keep operations patient-centric.

“Whether you like it or not, smart transformation is coming. If you do not prepare for it, do not acclimatise yourself to it, you are going to be extinct,” Dr Sabnis concluded.

Cybersecurity in healthcare

James Woo, CIO of Farrer Park Hospital, emphasised that even smart hospitals today must be future-ready in at least four domains — people, processes, technology and cybersecurity.

Of these, security is among the top concerns.

"Cybersecurity is actually very important. Why? Because even though you have built everything, without that at the end of the day, you have nothing”, explained Woo. “All your people, processes and technologies are not going to work.”

It is a fact: healthcare institutions cannot rely solely on their firewalls to defend against such intrusions. Research has shown that hackers can enter a network and lie dormant for 140 days before detection.

Hence, healthcare institutions are embracing a robust security strategy for protection today and in the future.

Rethinking primary healthcare  

Professor Barbara Starfield, from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, defines primary care as "that level of health service systems that provides entry into the system of all new needs and problems."

She said it also provides person-focused care over time and care for all unusual conditions and coordinates integrated care given elsewhere.

Simply put, there is much more to do in primary care than just the episodic care usually given to patients.

“In a bigger scheme of things, the way we integrate care within primary care is very important”, affirmed Dr K Thomas Abraham, Advisor at SATA CommHealth. “We need to understand that there could be vertical integration and horizontal integration.”

He said vertical integration involves integration within hospitals or other institutions where care is given while horizontal integration is between practitioners or within the industry.

“I think the future is about how we empower our patients through the use of technology, through the use of different resources that are available for their care”, Dr Abraham said. “Self-care is important; this is how you manage patients and reduce the cost of healthcare and prevent them from being hospitalised.”

How can technology help patients?

A study has shown that socioeconomic factors, as a determinant of health, contribute 40 percent to a person ’s general health and well-being, while clinical care contributes only 10 percent.

This leads healthcare professionals to start looking more closely at patients’ environment as well as individual characteristics and behaviours.

Today, technology also makes it possible to care for patients remotely.  A study conducted by Accenture reveals that virtual care solutions in primary care can generate savings of up to US$10 billion annually for the industry.

However, while mobile health (mHealth) and telehealth solutions undoubtedly raise staff efficiency and reduce the cost of services, it also opens up new paradigms in healthcare.

“Today’s technology has the power to aid the healthcare sector in many ways – integrated care, self-care, social care, and virtual care”, concluded Dr Abraham. “These are not new things to us, but if we put greater effort into finding new ways of advancing these areas, we are definitely going to see better primary care, and it would definitely make better outcomes for our patients too.”