Published On December 17, 2021The COVID-19 pandemic has been a kind of low-tide for healthcare IT, revealing long-standing gaps that might have previously gone unnoticed or unaddressed. Technology leaders across the board have been forced to confront these gaps as they’ve developed into significant issues. These same leaders, though, are forging new paths forward.
For all the challenges it’s brought, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed opportunities for change—at least for leaders who are open to new perspectives. For innovative leaders, the challenges that the public health emergency has presented are actually an opportunity to address newly exposed gaps in data governance.
To get off the ground and support future success, we suggest focusing on three core areas of change in healthcare: security, consumerization, and remote work.
Shore up your approach to security
Healthcare has been a choice target for cyberattacks for years, but the pandemic has multiplied that issue almost four fold. The FBI reports that since March 2020, the country has experienced a 400% increase in complaints of cyberattacks. This can be traced back to the beneficial and critical expansion of telehealth options, as well as healthcare staff shifting to remote work. But that’s only part of the story.
Healthcare has always led the field of cybersecurity attacks and will likely continue to do so. Patient information is incredibly high value, devices and endpoints tend to be especially vulnerable, healthcare staff lag other industries in understanding the impact of online risks, and healthcare technology is often older and behind on security protections.
Closing the gap
To turn things around, healthcare organizations should rethink their approach to security and use the pandemic to shift a security posture that increasingly prioritizes prevention.
For example, the healthcare revenue cycle function was well-positioned for remote work; but the value and vulnerability of protected health information (PHI) has pushed IT leaders to improve their use of SSL certificates and reassess how they apply remote desktop technologies and existing IT security protocols. Still, many organizations are finding that they’ve been overconfident in their remote security and are suffering from a work-from-home security deficit that’s only worsening.
Now is an ideal time to look for opportunities including:
Shredding services for remote workers so that employees aren’t disposing of PHI in home trash cans and recycling bins.
Digitizing physical records so your remote healthcare workers can access the information they need securely.
Managing end-of-life for IT assets that don’t align with your emerging cybersecurity strategy, and doing so in a way that prioritizes security.
Adjust to the consumerization-fueled explosion of patient data
The pressures of a pandemic have accelerated the consumerization of healthcare, but this trend has been in play for years. For example, US consumers now have access to over 1,100 MinuteClinic locations. This means they can set up an appointment with a clinician, receive a prescription, and pick it up—all while doing their regular shopping.
But the most interesting pandemic-related facet of consumerization might be the bump in virtual care. Even as insurance reimbursement for telehealth wanes, the spark of consumer interest burns bright. McKinsey & Company found that telehealth use has stabilized at a volume of 38 times the pre-COVID-19 baseline. This increase is accompanied by the continuing emergence of patient-generated clinical notes and the challenges of wearable-generated data—an innovation that providers find helpful but are still figuring out from an exchange and automation perspective.
Closing the gap
You can turn these challenges into an incentive to move toward a patient-centered data management strategy. This new approach should prioritize strong information governance to ensure your telehealth, telemedicine, and patient-data initiatives aren’t stalled by an outdated approach that doesn’t align with today’s consumerization trends.
Focus on identifying the key challenges that you’re facing because of consumerization—this might include legacy systems that were brought on before consumerization was even a consideration. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for technologies and partnerships that support the dynamic future of patient data and goals. What will likely be most challenging is thinking outside the enterprise. For example, the patients whose data you’re responsible for are increasingly concerned about privacy. A survey by Transcend, for example, found that 98% of respondents considered data privacy to be important.
Make sure you’re aiming to turn your records and information management practices into a competitive advantage that serves you in an increasingly consumer-driven future.
Reimagine remote work
If you’ve struggled with the transition to remote work and virtual operations, this might not be a bad thing.
Your workers are likely finding new levels of frustration navigating expired passwords, being kicked off VPNs, and dealing with home internet connections without the support of onsite IT. Any challenges you’ve faced—from communication, to security, to hardware shortages—have actually highlighted the areas in which you need to reconsider your processes and look for opportunities in the age of remote work.
As new variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge and governments and business leaders adapt, IT leaders are leveraging remote work as a central aspect of operational resilience planning.
Closing the gap
Many of the problems with remote work can be traced back to a lag in embracing the shift to digital healthcare workflows. Healthcare IT leaders need to adjust their thinking toward a more decentralized perspective in resilience planning.
Consider opportunities like:
Digitizing mail distribution through digital mail services that prioritize the security critical to healthcare communications.
Protecting your cloud information with data migration, disaster recovery, and server backup.
Document scanning and digital storage to support secure, remote access to patient files, imaging, and the wealth of healthcare data that you manage.
You’ll need to continually evaluate the risks and rewards of telehealth and remote work, but constant communication with leadership, employees, and all affected stakeholders will help you find your balance.
As you reimagine healthcare IT and step forward into digital transformation, know that Iron Mountain is keeping up with your needs—and we’re changing along with you. We’re constantly evolving to keep up with your information lifecycle management goals, helping you provide the best service possible to your healthcare customers.