Business & Technology

National Health IT Week: Enabling Digital Transformation with Integrated Network Security

By Susan Biddle | October 02, 2017

Over the past ten years, technology has transformed healthcare substantially. From electronic health records that simplify the collection and sharing of patient information, to digital consultation and other services provided remotely, to wearable connected medical devices, healthcare is becoming more accessible, accurate, and patient-focused.

National Health IT (NHIT) Week, which will take place from October 2nd- 6th, is a collaborative and partner-driven event that aims to increase awareness of the many ways new health IT initiatives stand to improve healthcare overall. As an event partner, Fortinet aims to engage the health IT community in meaningful conversations about how the space is evolving, and how the IT community can facilitate this evolution.

These conversations will ultimately help the healthcare community better understand the fundamental role health IT plays in supporting population and public health, and the benefits health IT can bring to US healthcare at large.

To kick off the National Health IT Week discussions, we will be focusing on the NHIT Week points of engagement, namely:

  • Supporting healthcare transformation
  • Expanding access to high quality care
  • Increasing economic opportunity
  • Making communities healthier

Many of these points fall under the umbrella of digital transformation, and the new technology that is positively changing patientcare and experience.

Digital Transformation in Healthcare

Digital transformation is affecting every industry. It refers to the need for businesses to modernize their operations to be in line with the technology use and expectations of their consumers. The healthcare industry has seen a marked change in the way patients interact with their providers. Overall, patients are seeking to play a more proactive role in their health. They want to be able to read their own medical reports, monitor their treatment plans, and communicate with their physicians online or through their connected mobile devices.

To keep up with these demands, and improve health initiatives and outcomes throughout the country, healthcare providers and IT teams have been focusing on increasing their technical capabilities in three key areas.

  1. Telemedicine: Telemedicine initiatives are improving healthcare across the US in two major ways. First, it removes geographic location from the equation of getting top-notch healthcare. As a result, communities that do not have access to hospitals or clinics can consult physicians and medical professionals remotely with an internet connection. Next, it saves time and money for healthcare providers and patients. Rather than having to schedule regular follow up appointments, physicians and patients can use video conference or conference call solutions to touch base on how their treatment plan is going, and make adjustments without having to come into the office or hospital, cutting down on planning time and logistical costs.
  2. Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and Wearable Devices:  The Internet of Medical Things refers to the connected devices used in the healthcare field to improve patient outcomes by collecting and sharing medical data in real-time. This increase in collected patient information allows doctors to gain a better understanding of their patient’s overall health and provide higher-quality care with fewer visits. A recent study shows that 60 percent of healthcare providers have adopted IoMT devices, and are experiencing cost benefits, broadened visibility, and improved patient care. Patients can now wear non-invasive medical devices that monitor their condition and report information back to their healthcare providers. Based on that information, the physician can alter their course of treatment accordingly in real time, without having to wait for their next appointment.
  3. Big Data and Cloud: The amount of data being collected about patients, illnesses, and health operations through the use of IoT/IoMT and connected devices poses a huge opportunity for healthcare providers. Combing through this data allows providers to find and apply actionable insights to everything from treatment plans to how to increase a hospital’s efficiency. However, in order to store this data in a scalable, cost-effective way, healthcare providers are increasingly turning to the cloud, with about 83 percent of healthcare providers using a hybrid cloud solution. Cloud use also facilitates information sharing, application access, and virtual care.

These are a few examples of how information technology is transforming healthcare by expanding access to care and medical resources and increasing patient empowerment for overall healthier communities. However, these innovations are only one aspect of health IT. Adopting new technologies requires having the technical infrastructure necessary to ensure these devices actually function as they should, and don’t create new problems for consumers or healthcare providers.

Health IT and Cybersecurity

Robust cybersecurity protocols are chief among these infrastructural needs. As patients and hospitals store and share greater amounts of information virtually in the cloud and through applications, personal health information (PHI) becomes increasingly accessible to cybercriminals who seek to use it for fraud or to sell for a profit.

The dual goals of health IT during this digital transformation has to be increasing the quality of care available through connected devices without sacrificing the privacy and security of patients and other users.

The Current Threat Landscape

As more personal information is moved to the cloud and virtual networks, cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated. Analysis done for Fortinet’s Q2 Global Threat Landscape Report shows a significant increase in cybercriminals leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to avoid security detection. In addition to being more sophisticated, these attacks are also more prolific, with a 30 percent increase in exploits detected from Q1 to Q2 of 2017.

Based on the types of attacks we have been seeing, there are a few best practices health IT professionals should adopt to ensure the security of their infrastructure and users.

  • Reconsider Risky Apps

Use of risky applications, such as proxy and peer-to-peer apps resulted in higher infection rates of botnets and malware, with 9x and 7x higher infection rates respectively.

  • Patch Fast and Thoroughly

Cybercriminals are taking advantage of poor cyber hygiene. As we saw with WannaCry and Petya, attackers are increasingly exploiting known vulnerabilities for which patches have already been made available, knowing that many organizations are simply not applying these patches to their devices. Thus, it is important for healthcare organizations to ensure they are staying on top of software patches and updates to avoid similar breaches.

  • Know and Look for the Signs of Threats

As threats become more sophisticated and prolific, and more devices request access to your network, it will be increasingly important to ensure your security infrastructure gives you strong cross-network visibility from endpoints to the cloud. This allows health IT professionals to see data movement and detect suspicious behavior. In that same vein, increasing your security research capabilities will enable your IT team to understand global and operational attack trends, providing better insight into the types of attacks that will be targeting your healthcare organization in the near future.

  • Fight Automation with Automation

Cybercriminals are leveraging automation in their attacks to make them faster and more effective. In order to keep pace with these attacks, healthcare IT teams will have to similarly rely on security automation. If your security controls are integrated and able to share information, you can automate security responses, ensuring faster response and minimizing the overall impact of an attack.

Enabling Digital Transformation with Network Security

As healthcare IT teams restructure their tech infrastructure to support digital transformation and minimize their attack surface, they will need to have integrated security controls in place that block known threats, identify new attacks, and respond immediately to reduce dwell time. At Fortinet, we have developed an arsenal of security products, such as our Enterprise Firewall and Security Fabric that enable security automation and real-time updates, while allowing them to be woven together to improve visibility and coordinate an effective response to detected attacks.

The robust protection offered by these and similar Fortinet products have earned us leadership positions in a variety of Gartner Magic Quadrant reports, as well as within the healthcare community, as evidenced by the reviews left by health IT professionals on the Gartner Peer Insights website. 

Final Thoughts

It’s an exciting time to be involved in healthcare technology. Advancements in telemedicine, the Internet of Medical Things, wearable devices, and big data analytics are giving the healthcare community the ability to transform patientcare and outcomes for a healthier population.

At the same time, it’s important that these advancements don’t come at great costs to hospitals, medical practices, or consumers in the form of data breaches or other compromises. Which is why adopting new technology has to also mean restructuring current IT infrastructure to support them. Embracing the healthcare digital transformation while maintaining focus on cybersecurity ensures the best of both worlds: a better patient experience without compromising privacy. 

Join the NHIT Week conversation! How is your health IT team adapting new technology to enhance patientcare and experiences? Let us know on Twitter.