May 17, 2020

Six Texting Mistakes Hospitals are Making Today

hospital technology
Information Technology
3 min
Healthcare organizations need smartphone messaging apps that encrypt communications until the recipient’s app is unlocked.
Efficient hospital communication is vital for success and the proper delivery of patient care. Messages that are transmitted in todays hospitals are pri...

Efficient hospital communication is vital for success and the proper delivery of patient care. Messages that are transmitted in today’s hospitals are primarily related to the care and safety of patients, containing instructions, questions and test results that affect individual’s lives.

Secure forms of texting are critical, needing to be monitored while remaining HIPAA-complaint.

A recent report by Spok outlined the six major mistakes hospitals are likely to be making today and discussed why critical messages regarding patient care are not equal to ordinary texts and emails.

1. Standard texting lacks integration with staff directory/on-call schedules.

Texting plans currently exist outside of a hospital’s IT structure, meaning a group of physicians is only connected if they distribute and manually input their phone numbers into each others’ devices. If a doctor changes his/her number, there is no way to know unless prior communication is made.

The right smartphone messaging app can integrate with a hospital’s directory database, the report stated, allowing messages to be easily transmitted by choosing a contact from a list. Just as easily, determining who is on-call in a specific department can be achieved by accessing a list of available providers.

Standard texting and many secure texting apps do not maintain this level of updated contact information for the sender and staff efficiency and patient safety can therefore suffer as a consequence.

2. Standard texting cannot send system-generated patient alerts.

Standard texting applications are not equipped to receive messages from external systems. According to Spok, a secure texting app can allow a nurse to receive patient calls for assistance and determine the patient’s need. Practicing safety measures in hospitals can help streamline clinical workflows and eliminate unnecessary steps.

3. Separation between hospital notifications and personal messages cannot be made.

A single inbox for messages allows for critical hospital notifications to be mixed in with personal notes from friends and family. Due to this, an urgent message could be overlooked.

Smartphone apps designed for critical situations address this problem. “Urgent messages should be sent to a separate, secure inbox reserved for work-related notifications,” said Spok.

4. Messages sent via SMS lack encryption.

Electronic protected health information is highly sensitive and, according to Spok, there can be financial penalties for organizations that fail to protect it.

The danger with standard text messages is that they are sent unencrypted and additionally have no ability to lock the application with a secure PIN.

Healthcare organizations need smartphone messaging apps that encrypt communications until the recipient’s app is unlocked.

5. Standard texting does not provide traceability.

While some forms of texting can track messages sent and delivered, they cannot determine whether the recipient acknowledged the notification or chose to ignore it. They also cannot escalate the urgency of a message.

Leading smartphone apps track when a message is sent and delivered as well as how the user responded. Spok advises healthcare organizations to consider smartphone messaging apps that take communication to another level and automatically escalate an undelivered message if the user does not respond within a specified period of time.

6. Standard texting does not have advanced ringtone nor repeat notification abilities.

Smartphone apps designed for healthcare providers can offer priority-based ringtones for incoming messages to differentiate messages from high, medium and low priority. They can also override a smartphone’s silent mode, notifying the user of a serious message even when the ringer is off for everything else.

While the ability to send standard text messages is acceptable to stay in touch with friends and family, it is not efficient enough when it comes to patient care.

“Ultimately, better communications mean a more efficient staff and happier, healthier patients,” reported Spok.  

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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.

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