Cybersecurity needs to be at the heart of healthcare sector’s transformation


By Keren Priyadarshini, Regional Business Lead, Worldwide Health, Microsoft Asia

When it comes to digital transformation, there is perhaps no other business quite like the healthcare sector. Healthcare is probably the most “personal” industry –  it touches all of us and  in this industry, patients are not merely customers, but people who have trusted their lives in the hands of healthcare professionals to deal with needs that may be complex and multi-faceted.

It is no wonder that pressurized to cater to the growing expectations from patients, many healthcare organizations, today, are looking at digitizing their business processes and harnessing data to mitigate the rising cost of healthcare, while improving the quality of care and accelerating medical breakthroughs for better patient outcomes.

At the same time, the concern over personal data protection and regulatory environment getting more stringent is a real one. The consequences of a cybersecurity breach in a healthcare organization can be quite detrimental as healthcare records are highly personal and sensitive in nature. If patients’ records are stolen, their private data may be traded in the underground economy to be exploited by cybercriminals for scams and frauds, and worse still it could cause tremendous trauma to the patients.

A patient’s safety and well-being is invariably tied to a healthcare organization’s ability to safeguard patient’s private and personal data. When a medical institution is hit with a cyberattack such as ransomware, critical care treatment needed by patients can be delayed and non-emergency cases can be forcibly canceled as doctors are unable to access patient’s medical information or the accuracy of the data becomes questionable as cybercriminals could have changed the data values. The threat is real!

According to a recent study by research firm Frost & Sullivan, almost half (45%) of healthcare organizations in Asia Pacific have either experienced a security incident or are not even sure if they have a security incident as they have not performed proper forensics or data breach assessments.

Moreover, the financial implications of a cyberattack against healthcare organizations is extremely high. The study of 1,300 respondents from 13 markets across Asia Pacific highlighted that a cybersecurity incident can cost a large healthcare organization an average of US$23.3 million. And to make it worse, instead of accelerating digital transformation to bolster their cybersecurity strategy to defend against future attacks, 65% of healthcare organizations across Asia Pacific had delayed the progress of their digital transformation projects due to fear of cyberattacks. This not only limits their ability to reduce attack surface against multiple attacks but also prevents them from leveraging advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to detect and protect against sophisticated cyberattacks. Furthermore, digital transformation delays also hinder organizations’ ability to better engage with patients, empower care teams, optimize clinical and operational effectiveness, and transform the care continuum.

Making Cybersecurity the Focus in Transforming Healthcare

For many healthcare organizations, one of the greatest challenges they face is creating a highly digitized organization, and at the same time safeguarding their patient’s data. Despite being aware of their biggest challenge, many healthcare organizations still adopt a very reactive approach towards cybersecurity.

A majority of respondents indicated that for healthcare organizations:

  • cybersecurity considerations for digital transformation projects only kick in once the project starts and not at the planning stages;
  • cybersecurity strategy is only a tactical way to ward off cyberattacks and not a business differentiator which can give them an advantage against competitors.

The recent high profile breaches against the healthcare organizations have pointed out the need to change this archaic mindset, especially as they are transforming to better engage with patients, empower care teams, optimize clinical and operational effectiveness, and transform the care continuum.

A fresh approach where cybersecurity is front and central – considered at the onset of every transformation journey to enable the healthcare sector to deal with cybersecurity threats that are growing more sophisticated and a stringent regulatory environment should be mandated.

With cybercriminals increasingly targeting health organizations, keeping patient information and other sensitive data secure while preserving privacy, maintaining the data’s confidentiality, integrity, and availability should be a key priority for healthcare organizations. Cybersecurity is more than a firewall that keeps out intruders or prevents data from flowing out, it creates trust. Proper implementation of cybersecurity strategy in a digitized environment allows medical practitioners to become more efficient, effective, and productive

There are six best practices that healthcare organizations can consider:

  1. Treat cybersecurity as a digital transformation enabler: By shifting cybersecurity’s core purpose from preventing breaches to enabling innovation, healthcare organizations can dramatically narrow the disconnect between security requirements and business needs. This will put healthcare organizations in a better position to safeguard their digital services from cyberattacks and engender greater trust in their patients.
  2. Invest to strengthen fundamentals: Prevent cybersecurity incidents by maintaining the basics, such as strong passwords, multi-factor authentication and efficient patching.
  3. Use integrated best-of-suite tools: Complexity is a big issue today, with too many cybersecurity solutions in an enterprise causing confusion and difficulties. Simplifying the setup brings better results.
  4. Continuously assess and review: Check for compliance with security best practices and industry regulations regularly to ensure gaps do not appear over time.
  5. Leverage cloud as a platform: Through cloud services, healthcare organizations will be able to implement a layered, in-depth cyber-defense strategy across data and networks while enhancing the protection of apps and infrastructure using built-in security services. Some cloud platforms also deliver comprehensive security intelligence by monitoring billions of cloud app events daily. This enables organizations to detect rapidly evolving threats early by identifying abnormal file and user behavior, allowing them to swiftly respond, investigate and remediate the situation.
  6. Tap on AI and automation: There are too many moving parts in a healthcare organization’s digital operation today for IT managers to keep track of. AI and automation will help these organizations extend their cybersecurity capabilities, allowing them to free up more resources and time to focus on their core duties. The good news is, four out of five (81%) healthcare organizations in Asia Pacific have either adopted or are considering an AI-based approach to enhance their cybersecurity strategy.

Finding A Way Forward Towards Secured Healthcare

With frequent news of high-profile cyberattacks against healthcare institutions have made it clear that it will not always be a smooth ride. The response, however, should not be to shut down access and adopt a tactical, short-term strategy. Instead, with the convergence of healthcare and technology, healthcare organizations must face the challenges head-on, by adopting a bold strategy to integrate cybersecurity into all its digital processes.

Transformation and cybersecurity are not mutually exclusive. With better tools for information sharing and coordination—available to them anywhere they are and anywhere, a healthcare organization has to view cybersecurity as a preventive, proactive vaccine to an underlying problem, instead of simply seeking to treat the symptom with a band aid.

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