Protecting Health Care Records from Cyber Attackers is a Game of Cat and Mouse
The never-ending battle between health care organizations and cyber attackers has always been like a game of cat and mouse. The hacker plays the role of the mouse, constantly trying to sneak past the company’s cat that is guarding information.
For years, the cat not only consistently beat the mouse, he would help his fellow cats identify new mice and keep them out of their cupboards, too. But as the successful data breaches over the past year demonstrate, including one earlier this year that made headlines after millions of health insurance records were compromised, the mice are now kicking the cats in their tails.
As the health care sector continues its collective effort to move to a 100-percent electronic records system, these recent attacks should serve to do two things. First, it should shine a light on why your existing cyber security system is likely inadequate – even if it complies with HIPAA’s Security Rule. Second, it should prompt you to immediately call your CSO, CIO and IT administrators into your office to overhaul your security posture and establish new employee education and incident response training programs.
While you may not have thought of your industry as a primary target for attackers, I hope you understand that cyber criminals consider health care information just as valuable as credit card numbers and other financial records if not more so given the longer shelf life of social security numbers and other personal information. And furthermore, traditional security solutions alone are incapable of keeping thieves out of your network. Healthcare security needs a more holistic approach that keeps watch both outside and inside your network and can help your security personnel more quickly identify and remediate threats. Here is why:
A Game of Cat and Mouse
Your first question might be, “What happened to the cat that I thought was such an effective guard?” Actually, the question you should be asking first is “What’s happened to the mouse to make him so much better at sneaking past the cat-guarded gate?”
The mouse has become faster, smarter and more agile. His motivations have evolved too, from hacking into systems to gain public notoriety and praise from his fellow mice, to silently and anonymously stealing information for financial gain.
In fact, the cat often does not even realize the mouse has snuck in and has been sitting for weeks, possibly months, stealing whatever it finds valuable.
The solution is not to add more cats that keep their ever-watchful eyes trained outside your network in order to spot outside attackers from trying to get in. That’s still important, the cat hasn’t become obsolete. But now building a better mouse trap requires a more holistic approach that guards both from the outside-in and from the inside-out.
This requires monitoring activity across your entire network in real time, including who is accessing and moving data stored in third party cloud-based services like Dropbox or Salesforce.com. Simply put, security cannot be a one-time “set it and forget it” process.
In addition to implementing technology tools to enable you to see who is in your network and what, exactly, they are doing, you need to educate and train all of your employees, not just those in the IT department. Practice makes perfect. Just as you run regular fire drills, do the same to ensure your teams know what to do when a security threat is identified outside or inside your network. You want to put out a fire in a trash can long before it becomes a blaze that engulfs the whole building and causes irreparable damage.
A Holistic Approach
There’s no sugarcoating this fact: it’s likely only a matter of time before a breach occurs. You still want to lock your front doors (a.k.a. your perimeter), but don’t put all your eggs in that one basket. You have to balance your cyber security technology budget and include tools that provide your security team with the intelligence, visibility and forensic IR capabilities they need to identify when someone picks the lock and shut them down before any significant damage is done.
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.