Is your hospital at risk? Vestagen asks hospital executives to embrace disease prevention campaign
To draw attention to the role healthcare worker attire can play in transmitting pathogens, Vestagen Technical Textiles, Inc. today launched a “Keep the Coat” awareness campaign. The effort intends to bring understanding that, with new technological advancements, what care providers wear can actually become a line of defense for them, their patients and their families.
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that traditional healthcare worker attire, such as a lab coat or scrubs, can carry and potentially spread harmful contaminants. Additional studies show healthcare workers experience high rates of exposure, colonization and infection. However, a groundbreaking textile technology that is a breathable antibacterial barrier fabric has been shown to reduce methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on the fabric by 99.99 percent compared to traditional non-protective uniforms, according to a clinical study published in the journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. The results indicate new textile technologies can prevent or reduce contamination, providing protection without changing any caregiving practices.
“White coats are a deeply-rooted part of a physician’s professional identity, one that helps establish patient trust and confidence. It is also meant to function as a barrier to the unpleasant and harmful contaminants providers encounter every day,” said Uncas “Ben” B. Favret III, president and CEO of Vestagen. “We want healthcare leaders and care providers to understand the answer to this issue isn’t to take the coat away. The unintended consequence of removing the white coat is that contaminants would then have direct access to the provider’s street clothes, which can be carried throughout the facility and even home. With today’s textile advances, we believe there’s no need to ditch the white coat, we just need to improve it.”
“Contamination of healthcare worker attire by splashes or splatters of blood or body fluids is an important issue deserving national attention. Effective measures are needed to prevent occupational infection and disease mediated by contaminated attire,” said Janine Jagger, MPH, PhD, founder of the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia and an internationally renowned expert on the prevention of occupational exposures to blood and body fluids. “Hospitals and health systems can take progressive action by implementing methods, technologies and interventions to maximize protection for healthcare personnel and minimize the role of contaminated attire in the occupational transmission of pathogens.”
Pioneering new guidance on healthcare personnel attire1 was recently issued by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). Part of that guidance calls for care providers to hang up their lab coats when seeing patients and use a “bare below the elbows” approach to reduce the ability of providers’ sleeves in transmitting pathogens. While the guidance is a great first step, Vestagen believes more can be done to both protect the provider and patients, and uphold the white coat’s important place in the culture of medicine.
The Vestagen educational campaign is intended to not only bring national attention to the important issue of soft surface contamination, but also drive action and change.
“SHEA's guidance in January was undoubtedly an important early step in the discussion of healthcare workers' attire and the development of further policies and procedures should be ongoing as technology progresses,” said Amber Hogan Mitchell, DrPH, MPH, CPH, vice president of regulatory affairs at Vestagen. “We’ve talked with healthcare leaders who are already evaluating and updating their healthcare worker and patient safety protocols to include policies and practices that reduce mobile soft surface contamination. We applaud their leadership and others who innovate with them.”
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.