Chinese hospitals raise environmental health standards with smog clinic to improve public health
Written by Alyssa Clark
Hospitals are being demanded to provide more and more specialized treatment, whether it be replying to the demands of the everyday environment or specific market trends. Smog and pollution have become a hugely detrimental problem for people around the world in terms of environmental trends— and its time that the public healthcare system did something about it.
Whether it’s the smog-ridden skies of Los Angeles, California, or the overly-polluted lungs of Chinese citizens (and overall public health in China) this epidemic has forced public health officials to begin racking their brains to find ways to solve this unhealthy problem. This is not simply just an American or Chinese problem— as we have experienced the pollution epidemic in the United States, South America and parts of Europe as well, we have all experienced the need for ways to better-execute this problem and they should never be in short supply.
The Chinese are taking a first step towards achieving this initiative, by incorporating a smog clinic within their hospitals in order to specifically target pollution-related illnesses and symptoms. This newly implemented clinic at Chengdu No.7 People’s Hospital has already seen and treated over 100 patients since opening last week on December 9th— in less than 7 days, 100 people have already jumped at the opportunity of these resources, and that sends a serious message to public health officials.
Not only is this increasing traffic to the hospitals, reinstating faith in the public that the government is really looking out for the needs of the individual and building equity for the hospital, but this innovative development could call other hospitals to follow suit. Wang Qixun, a doctor at the clinic, said it was set up because the hospital had seen the number of smog-related patients surge in the last year.
With some of the most common symptoms of the pollution-based illnesses being as simple as coughs and sore throats, to even more progressive ones like asthma and heart disease, the need for this specialized type of treatment is at an all time high.Wang stated that these symptoms and illnesses are “triggered or worsened by smog,” Wang said.
Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University's School of Public Health, said he wasn't aware of any other smog clinics in China and suggested it may be a publicity stunt aimed at increasing the hospital's coffers."You can't really say a symptom such as a cough or sore throat is caused by PM2.5. Chances are the cold weather is the real cause," he said.
The success that this hospital has already seen from this type of innovation has not only inspired Chinese people to seek refuge in their public health resources, but it has opened the floodgates of competition for hospitals around the world to better-serve its public. What will this kind of environmental-specialized treatment do for the public? How will it benefit the hospital sector of the healthcare industry? Hopefully this stride towards providing better treatment for people in need is the first step towards improving the public health sector of healthcare, and other hospitals around the world will fall in line with this innovate idea.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
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.
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.
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.