What’s next in healthcare
The healthcare sector changed drastically in 2020 as a result of the global pandemic. Here two members of the leadership team behind patient engagement platform CipherHealth share their thoughts and predictions for the year ahead.
The disappearance of the hospital monopoly and tackling racial disparities in healthcare
Jake Pyles, CEO, CipherHealth
Healthcare consumerism was on the rise ahead of the pandemic, but the explosion of telehealth in 2020 has effectively eliminated the geographical constraints that moored patient populations to their local hospitals and providers. The fallout has come in the form of widespread network leakage and lost revenue.
By October, in fact, revenue for hospitals in the U.S. was down 9.2 per cent year-over-year. Able to select providers from the comfort of home and with an ever-increasing amount of personal health data at their convenience through the growing use of consumer-grade wearable devices, patients are more incentivized in 2021 to choose the provider that works for them.
After the pandemic fades, we’ll see some retrenchment from telehealth, but it will remain a mainstream care delivery model for large swaths of the population. In fact, post-pandemic, we believe telehealth will standardize and constitute a full 30 to 40 per cent of interactions.
That means that to compete, as well as to begin to recover lost revenue, hospitals need to go beyond offering the same virtual health convenience as their competitors – Livango and Teladoc should have been a shot across the bow for every health system in 2020.
Moreover, hospitals need to become marketing organizations. Like any for-profit brand, hospitals need to devote significant resources to building loyalty, but have traditionally eschewed many of the cutting-edge marketing techniques used in other industries. Engagement and personalization at every step of the patient journey will be core to those efforts.
Additionally, the protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd spurred a new reckoning with the vast inequities that exist in America. The fact that the conversation was happening amid a global pandemic underscored the innate connection between the two phenomena.
Healthcare, one of the biggest structural systems that exists in America, has serious failings when it comes to equity. The fact that the pandemic disproportionately affects communities of color shines new light on the disparities that exist, and we hope that 2021 will mark an industry-wide commitment to addressing inequity and the association between racial disparities and Social Determinants of Health.
Patient engagement, and particularly breaking down the technological barriers between patient populations and access to information and care, has a key role to play.
Informal care and managing staff wellness
Lisa Romano, RN, Chief Nursing Officer, CipherHealth
As the pandemic continues to strain hospitals, pushing them to or beyond capacity, we’ll see more and more patients recover from COVID-19 at home this winter, either declining admission themselves, or unable to meet more stringent admission requirements.
The increasing demand for hospital-level care at home allows patients to recover with the support of family and in a comfortable environment, but it also presents challenges, particularly in treating patients experiencing adverse downstream effects of social determinants of health.
The shift to in-home care will also give rise to the informal caregiver – a family member or friend overseeing care regimens for an at-home patient, and a new central element to the patient care circle.
The new dynamic will demand new tools and integrations. Patients and their families need to be provided with the tools to track health at home, the means to communicate seamlessly with providers on the medium that makes the most sense, and the contextual information to play a meaningful role in their own care.
The pandemic has also placed unthinkable stress on frontline healthcare workers. Since it began, they’ve been working under conditions that are fundamentally more dangerous, with fewer resources, and in many cases under the heavy emotional burden of seeing several patients lose their battle to COVID-19.
The fallout from that is already beginning – doctors and nurses are leaving the profession, or getting sick, or battling mental health struggles. Nursing programs are struggling to fill classes. As a new wave of the pandemic rolls across the country, that fallout will only increase.
If they haven’t already, hospitals in 2021 will place new premiums upon staff wellness and staff health, tapping into the same type of outreach and purposeful rounding solutions they use to round on patients.
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.