Digital technology is transforming every industry, but the trend is perhaps the most noticeable in healthcare. We witnessed firsthand how the global pandemic largely sped up the digital transformation of healthcare and boosted innovation regarding how patients can receive and consume care.1 In addition, the rapid changes and collective movement to the cloud enhanced the level of security needed to keep patient data safe and secure.
It’s clear that the future of healthcare relies on healthcare workers fully embracing innovative healthcare technologies in order to stay highly functional in the coming years. Yet while digitization opens the door to effective solutions for urgent medical challenges (and results in vastly improved patient outcomes), these technologies also make distributed healthcare networks more complex and vulnerable to attack. Addressing these concerns starts with identifying the three major trends contributing to the rapid digital transformation within the industry. From there, we can better understand how providers are responding to emerging technologies that address both security and modernization.
1. Treating patients outside of the office
Healthcare organizations quickly developed and deployed solutions that allowed patients to be seen in a virtual environment while maintaining the same level of patient care as an in-person visit. In the early months of 2020, telemedicine deployments swiftly grew in order to account for continued patient care. Health providers found success turning to technology as a means to support their patients in the wake of the pandemic, with 79% turning to telehealth, 55% turning to video chat and 44% to more communication channels.2 While it is speculative at this point to say whether or not the number of telehealth visits will remain constant, we are now at a point in healthcare delivery where patients are requesting telehealth visits, and insurance payers are now listening.
2. Monitoring solutions
Connected devices via the internet of medical things or “wearables” deliver tremendous value for patients and healthcare providers. They make it easy to collect, analyze and transmit health data to providers, enhancing the effectiveness of patient care and decreasing overall costs. With more than 80% of consumers willing to wear fitness technology,3 insurers and healthcare organizations are reaping the benefits with limited barriers.
In addition, patients are now being monitored by healthcare organizations directly from their homes via Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM). Tablets are equipped with software capable of collecting data from connected medical devices via Bluetooth, administering patient surveys to determine current medical status, and connecting for instant virtual visits with the simple touch of a button. The benefits are hard to ignore. For example, since 2016, The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has seen a greater than 74% reduction in readmission rates and a 40% reduction in mortality rates.4 Another instance shows the Mayo Clinic used RPM to monitor Covid-19 positive patients with complex chronic conditions, reducing hospitalizations as a result.5
3. Rapid changes to the network and new to the cloud
Between acquisitions, mergers, remote work environments and cloud migration, we have seen severe changes to IT infrastructure for healthcare organizations. Remote work environments have formed seemingly overnight, and telehealth has become an industry standard. Combined with the need to merge multiple networks, these changes left IT departments scrambling. In addition, antiquated technology and a lack of staff made large network overhauls difficult during a time when they needed to be nimble.
These changes added security risks to hospital environments through threats such as increased ransomware attacks. Cybersecurity attacks resulted in delayed delivery of service to patients and, ultimately, complete chaos—even to the dire point of life or death for patients. Healthcare professionals had no choice but to conduct their job without the technology needed. Organizations had to undertake costly remediation efforts by paying the ransom or recovering compromised systems, undergoing forensic investigations and purchasing or updating security systems for future protection, costing the healthcare industry millions of dollars—a total of $7.13 million to date.6 This price tag is higher in healthcare than in any other industry, which indicates the industry’s vulnerability.
Now prescribing SD-WAN with enhanced security
Considering these pressing trends driving overnight change in the healthcare industry, Software-Defined Wide-Area Networking (SD-WAN) solutions stand to play a critical role. SD-WAN has become a popular network choice for healthcare providers, thanks to its ability to increase security, be easily managed and lower operating costs.
Security ranks the highest for providers when choosing SD-WAN, with 82% claiming it to be an important part of the selection process.7 A secure SD-WAN solution addresses accessibility issues, and helps the IT organization be nimble and flexible to make necessary changes. It also integrates networking and security capabilities across the WAN edge, access layer and endpoints.
Healthcare has been forced to adapt quickly over the past year in order to keep up with the changing healthcare landscape—from treating patients remotely to continuing to fight the ceaseless cybersecurity battle. As a result, finding the right partner that can deliver the latest healthcare-enabling technologies on a secure, reliable foundation has become a welcomed medication for providers.
- Christopher Jason, “How COVID-19 Accelerated the Digital Transformation of Healthcare,” EHRIntelligence, September 22, 2020.
- “Healthcare & Cybersecurity Post Pandemic 2020 Trend Report,” Canam Research conducted by Windstream Enterprise and Fortinet. September 2020.
- “Latest trends in medical monitoring devices and wearable health technology.” Alicia Phaneuf, Business Insider. January 11, 2021.
- “University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC) Health Plan,” Vivify Health. 2021.
- Joshua C. Pritchet, Bijan J. Borah, Aakash P Desai, Zhuoer Xie, Antoine N. Saliba and Konstantinos Levantakos, “Association of a Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) Program with Reduced Hospitalizations in Cancer Patients With COVID-19,” JCO Oncology Practice. June 8, 2021.
- “Ransomware Activity Targeting the Healthcare and Public Health Sector,” CISA, November 2, 2020.
- “Healthcare & Cybersecurity Post Pandemic 2020 Trend Report,” Canam Research, conducted by Windstream Enterprise and Fortinet. September 2020.