How hospitals can get control over their sprawling networks

Hospitals are more commonly embracing digitalization and the benefits of our increasingly connected world. Whether due to pressure from government regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the ongoing goal to improve patient care, the health care industry’s investment in IT and network technology has risen significantly as of late.

According to a recent IDC study, 40 percent of health care providers in the United States continue to see their IT budgets grow. While in previous years, increased IT spending in the health care space could be largely attributed to the need to adopt electronic health records, IDC found that hospitals and other care providers are moving on to invest in more sophisticated forms of technology. Across the board, 18 percent of all new software investments in the health care industry are going toward Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of software spending is being invested in third-party managed hosting services.

Cybersecurity concerns loom as networks expand

As health care providers continue to ramp up investments in their networks, they may encounter new challenges that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Building out hospital systems to make better use of cloud services, the Internet of Things and big data analytics could result in sprawling networks that are difficult to get control over. Some of the most pressing concerns here involve the cybersecurity ramifications that come with expanding networks and adding new endpoints.

With hospitals holding onto a large amount of valuable data including patient information, hackers and other cybercriminals continue to target these facilities. As their networks grow, these data thieves have new avenues to launch attacks, exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to sensitive information. In fact, according to a February 2016 report released by the Ponemon Institute, health care providers encounter cyberattacks nearly once every month. Furthermore, nearly half of the participating hospitals reported losing or exposing patient information due to a cyberattack over the previous 12 months.

“Stories surrounding the breach of hospital and health systems data are unfortunately no longer infrequent occurrences,” said Rod Piechowski, HIMSS senior director of health information systems. “Cybersecurity attacks have the potential to yield disastrous results for healthcare providers and society as a whole. It is imperative that healthcare providers acknowledge the need to address cybersecurity concerns and act accordingly.”

Effective cybersecurity begins with the network

The first step to getting a handle on health care cybersecurity concerns is to bolster network security. This includes employing a next-generation firewall to block incoming malware such as spyware and phishing attempts, as well as identify and inspect all incoming traffic and properly manage user-access controls. In this way, hospitals and other facilities can embrace the latest in health care tech while retaining the peace of mind of knowing that their networks are safeguarded against emerging threats.