Impactful Healthcare IT in a Post-COVID World

By Paul Mott, Raritan

As COVID-19 surged across the country infecting more than 1 million people, hospitals and healthcare institutions met the unprecedented challenge of caring for those infected. Through their ingenuity, the U.S. witnessed thousands of testing tents pop up virtually overnight and the rapid expansion of intensive care unit bed capacity. Although these endeavors proved successful in combating the virus, they also created new challenges and pressures for America’s healthcare system. 

Hospital profit margins plummeted from canceled non-emergency procedures as patients postponed their surgeries. According to the National Library of Medicine, a study titled, The Cost of Quarantine: Projecting the Financial Impact of Canceled Elective Surgery on the Nation’s Hospitals, found that the “national revenue loss due to major elective surgery cessation was estimated to be $22.3 billion.” In addition, the American Hospital Association conducted their own study and found that a total four-month financial impact of $202.6 billion in losses for America’s hospitals and health systems, or an average of $50.7 billion per month.

Exacerbating the revenue loss, hackers took advantage of the COVID-19 distraction hospitals were facing and used it as an opportunity to exploit network vulnerabilities. According to Medical Economics, “in just the first half of 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services saw a nearly 50% increase in the number of healthcare-related cybersecurity breaches, with 132 reported incidents that targeted network servers, desktop and laptop computers, email and electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Healthcare IT News expands on the Medical Economics’ findings by writing that the 2021 Identity Breach Report found “the [healthcare] industry did experience a 51% increase in the total volume of records exposed when compared with 2019.”

These financial losses and data breaches took their toll on healthcare IT budgets, but some organizations are finding innovative ways to still advance their services and strengthen their IT systems with cost-effective connectivity solutions and stronger cybersecurity methods. 

Patient and IT Monitoring With Less Effort

As a means to recoup costs, health care providers are consolidating the complexity of IT devices and in some cases, upgrading legacy devices due to inefficiencies. This is particularly true when considering connectivity for bedside telemetry monitoring systems. Healthcare IT staff are finding methods to leverage the existing network investments with new connectivity that offers high-performance remote access for CT scanners, MRI machines, and other in-room patient monitoring equipment. Because all these types of medical devices are computer-based, they can be directly connected to the network while also accessed remotely from one central

location. Now patient monitoring does not have to solely be performed by making a visit to each room. Data can be relayed to the nursing station over common Ethernet networks and displayed on monitors—allowing hospital staff to stay on top of changes to patient health and mitigating the risk of reactive responses.

The benefits of connecting in-room monitoring devices also extend to the IT side of the house, not just patient-related work. For example, by connecting CT scanners, MRI devices, etc to the network via KVM-over-IP switches, IT technicians can also access them remotely, allowing for more proactive support and maintenance while also solvingthe connection issues between legacy hardware and generic PCs at nursing stations. In addition, many of these KVM switches have controlled access built-in, allowing administrators to view a record of who’s been tapping into equipment. These switches are vital for helping hospitals upgrade legacy healthcare equipment for remote management and monitoring—while preserving their initial investments in older equipment. 

The goal is to ensure uninterrupted data across the clinical continuum and provide a complete analysis of a patient’s condition without the fear of network failure or unauthorized access to patient information and configuration changes—these new KVM switches effectively accomplish this goal.

Best Practices To Reduce Attack Surfaces

According to a study byCheck Point Research, ransomware attacks have jumped 50 percent from the first half of 2020. As more healthcare functions moved online during the COVID pandemic, more areas became open to outside threats that can shut down an entire network and impact patients. Recently, a ransomware incident hit Universal Health Services, one of the nation’s largest health care providers with operations that include 26 acute care hospitals, 328 behavioral health facilities, and 42 outpatient facilities across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.K. Unfortunately, new medical technologies are creating additional attack vectors that open healthcare providers to more security breaches—resulting in the theft of personal information.

From a hardware perspective, KVM-over-IP switches can help harden the network against outside threats because they meet government mandates such as AES & FIPS 140-2 encryption, Common Access Card (CAC) authentication, PIV, FIPS 201, HSPD-12, and IPv6 networking. 

In addition to the hardware, incorporating a multi-factor, risk management defense for a cybersecurity approach helps prevent unauthorized network access. As part of the multi-factor approach, healthcare providers are requiring all third-party vendors to demonstrate they are in compliance by showing proof of certifications such asHITRUST, which combines extensive safeguards from HIPAA, COBIT, HITECH, PCI, and more.

Needless to say, ensuring compliance with HIPAA, GDPR, and other data privacy and security regulations is paramount for any third-party organization sharing data with a hospital’s network. If the cybersecurity expertise is not contained in-house, healthcare providers must look to third-party IT security firms. Outside cybersecurity firms often use a mix of automated tools to test systems for vulnerabilities, deploy penetration tests to look at how a malicious attacker could collect data, and conduct “white-box testing” to review potential areas for code security improvement.

Conclusion

The year 2020 has presented significant challenges that healthcare professionals have admirably overcome—trouble-shooting IT-related issues should not be added to these challenges. There is proven technology and best practices on the market today that are ready to make an immediate and positive impact on the delivery of healthcare. From improving data uploads from patients’ bedsides to protecting sensitive digital records from being stolen, KVM switches are being used throughout healthcare with great success. As the entire healthcare industry is reconfigured for new methods of treatment, one element of the Hippocratic Oath can be applied to all this new technology, “to uphold specific ethical standards.” The aforementioned technologies are all standards-based solutions proven to deliver better experiences and outcomes. 

Paul Mott is Global Technical Product Manager of power solutions at Raritan, a brand of Legrand. An expert on data center power, Paul has more than 10 years of experience in the IT industry.