Cyberattacks increase in healthcare, but sector unprepared
Cyberattacks on healthcare organisations around the world are on the rise. Last year, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was targeted with almost 140k phishing emails, designed to lure the recipient into handing over confidential data. NHS Digital later announced that more than 100 inboxes had been compromised and were sending out malicious emails to contacts.
The impacts of cyberattacks can be devastating. In June 2020 a ransomware attack on a hospital in Colorado left five years’ worth of patient records inaccessible.
Unfortunately despite the increase in these attacks, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the healthcare sector isn’t prepared for them. A new survey by security software firm Irdeto found that 88% of US-based medtech leaders do not believe their organisation is prepared for a cyberattack.
The survey was carried out amongst senior level corporate and product executives at Fortune 1000 medical device manufacturers, digital and mobile health companies and telehealth providers. They were asked about existing cybersecurity policies and processes, their hopes and fears for connected health – from compromised health data to direct attacks on the patient – and potential solutions to the growing vulnerabilities, risks and threats. Among the key findings were:
- 80% have suffered at least one cyberattack in the past five years, including ransomware, malware, phishing, spoofing and DDoS, with customer databases, employee information and even R&D being targeted
- Only 18% believe the security built into their medical device products is strong, while 80% rate their organization’s cybersecurity products as just adequate, or not robust
- 80% of respondents believe that regulatory compliance is the biggest business benefit of implementing a strong cybersecurity strategy, yet only 28% rated themselves very aware/knowledgeable about forthcoming EU and US regulations, such as US FDA pre-market guidelines or EU Medical Device Regulation (MDR).
- Only 13% of IoMT leaders believe their business is very prepared to mitigate future risks; while 70% believe that they are only somewhat prepared at best. One fifth (17%) stated that their firm was not prepared at all.
Interestingly, 53% of IoMT leaders report handling cybersecurity in house, while the others outsource all or parts of the security strategy to partners. However, 80% of IoMT leaders rate their organization’s cybersecurity products as just adequate, or not robust, and only 18% believe the security built into their medical device products is strong.
The study found that respondents unanimously reported concern over attackers’ ability to gain access to an environment where software is running, ranking the most significant vulnerabilities as security misconfiguration and broken authorization protocols, insecure network connections (including automatic guest wi-fi connection) and lack of defenses within API layers, among other risks.
Irdeto’s report concludes that while cybersecurity threats are ‘skyrocketing’, vendors must be aware of issues arising from both emerging threats and new regulation, ultimately promoting the value of their products to medical teams and their patients.
This applies to cybersecurity around the world. Speaking about the attacks on the NHS, Chris Ross, SVP International at Barracuda said: “With the global pandemic putting a huge strain on hardworking doctors, nurses, and clinical staff, it’s absolutely vital that email systems are properly protected from outsider threats, to block malicious emails before they reach the inbox.
“It is equally important for [hospital] Trusts to issue the necessary guidance about the risks associated with phishing attacks, so that staff are aware of the techniques used and can think twice before handing over important information to suspicious third parties.”
The full report from Irdeto can be read here
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.