May 17, 2020

Can Secure Text Messaging Services Save NHS Scotland in 2015?

United Kingdom Healthcare
hospital technology
3 min
Relatively simple and low cost tools such as using SMS to cut down on missed appointments can play a part in bringing down costs and waste in the NHS.
The Scottish NHS (National Health Service) came under a lot of scrutiny during the Scottish independence referendum, with commentators wondering if inde...

The Scottish NHS (National Health Service) came under a lot of scrutiny during the Scottish independence referendum, with commentators wondering if independence would also mean budget cuts for health care.

As it stands, Scotland remained part of the U.K., but there are still plenty of questions being asked about the state of the NHS, its budget going forward and staffing levels across the different Scottish health trusts.

The Scottish NHS is in need to find ways to make the most of its budget, including using tools such as Short Message Service (SMS) to cut down on missed appointments.

What are some of the ways the Scottish NHS is using SMS technology to provide a boost, and how are things looking going into 2015?

Scottish NHS Embraces SMS Messaging

As the article "Scottish Healthcare Gets a Boost From SMS" points out, SMS provides a new way of engaging with patients, whether to help them manage their health, or manage their health care appointments.

Examples include using an SMS-based service to help women in Scotland find their nearest breast screening center, or providing a text message-based smoking cessation service, with supportive messages to help smokers quit.

With so much of the population being mobile these days, it only makes sense to find ways to use SMS to help deliver health care services, providing direct and personal reminders and help direct to patients.

Saving Money and Cutting Down on Missed Appointments

A key use of SMS messaging for the Scottish NHS is in cutting down missed appointments.

It's estimated that the thousands of missed appointments across the NHS each year cost as much as £600 million a year – finding a way to reduce that figure means significant savings for trust, hospital managers and the NHS as a whole. 

Some GP surgeries have been trying out SMS messaging as a way to help patients keep to their appointments.  

Park Road Surgery in Fife, for example, has an established text message service that sends out a reminder the day before an appointment, helping patients to remember.

Meanwhile, the Moray Coast Medical Practice has seen measurable savings since starting a text message appointment reminder service, saving £1200 in non-wasted clinical time and an additional £40 in postage in just six weeks.

NHS Scotland Faces Some Struggles

Things are fairly mixed for the NHS Scotland right now.

On one hand, the Chancellor's Autumn Statement confirmed that an extra £125 million is to be made available to the NHS in Scotland. It's a welcome injection of cash, but critics say it might not be enough.

The Audit Scotland watchdog has suggested that the Scottish NHS is struggling to cope with rising costs, tightening budgets, and a growing demand for its services.

Staff levels and staff sickness are also a cause for concern right now, with some health boards finding as many as 24 percent of staff sick days are caused by stress. Finding staff can also prove challenging, with the cost of locum doctors putting a strain on the NHS budget.

Although there are some signs of increased investment, it's clear that the NHS in Scotland will have some challenges to overcome going forward into 2015.

For NHS managers, finding ways to cut costs and reduce staff stress and sickness levels will be key.

Relatively simple and low cost tools such as using SMS to cut down on missed appointments can play a part in bringing down costs and waste, and making jobs that little bit less stressful.

About the author: Tristan Anwyn writes on a wide variety of topics, including social media, SEO, SMS use in business and Scottish health care.

Share article

Jun 13, 2021

How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats

Jonathan Miles
6 min
Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, tells us how the healthcare sector can protect itself from attacks

One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority.  In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.

The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics. 

From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world. 

Going digital 

The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years. 

This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate. 

Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.

To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care. 

Strengthening defences

Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change. 

It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device. 

These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.

Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement: 
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.

In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.

Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents. 

Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.

This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents. 
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.

Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.

As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.  

Fighting future threats

With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.

To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced. 

This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.

Share article