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How COVID-19 Has Impacted Healthcare IT

Coronavirus and technological advancements. These two topics are powerhouses of change dominating the future of the healthcare industry. For healthcare IT, the changing industry means innovations in cybersecurity and telehealth availability, creating safer and more accessible care.

But the impacts of COVID on healthcare IT go beyond that. With innovative methods for healthcare treatments and delivery, data is at a greater risk than ever before. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of new technological systems to target data. Cybersecurity must improve as a result. 

Overall, the change in the market means advancements in care tech that offer a greater range of solutions. Within that, however, are risks and challenges now faced by the system. Here’s what you should know. 

Cybersecurity Concerns

Reliance on technology is at an all-time high. Estimates show that approximately 31% of workers employed in March of 2020 transitioned into a remote capacity with weeks. Of those, a portion work within the healthcare industry, often in medical coding, billing, and even in direct patient treatment. 

Remote working means added cybersecurity risks. A physical location can maintain secure firewalls and network access keys. Managing these protections for a remote workforce is significantly more difficult. 

With healthcare data as valuable and vulnerable as it is, healthcare IT is particularly at risk. In 2019 alone, nearly 500 companies experienced data breaches across thousands of records, costing organizations around $429 for each record. 

The added risk of remote workers and patients in the wake of COVID-19 means questions have to be asked of IT departments when it comes to cybersecurity. Healthcare employees and patients alike must now become informed in the specifics of cybersecurity. Areas of focus across healthcare IT now include:

  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
  • Encryption
  • Data backup
  • Video conferencing

All of these elements must be coordinated seamlessly and safely from provider to patient. This reinforces the need for cloud security processes across healthcare IT networks. Without the ability of healthcare teams to log in from anywhere and safely manage patient data, costly breaches can occur.

Luckily, advances in healthcare technology are making data security easier for the COVID world. 

Advances in Healthcare Technology

The impact of COVID-19 has driven technological innovation across the healthcare industry. With the need for immediate solutions to pandemic problems, healthcare facilities are integrating tech for safety and accessibility, considering the risk that a more open network brings to patient data.

Among these new technologies are systems designed to make healthcare work for patients and care providers alike, no matter the distance. This requires a focus in three directions: authentication, accessibility, and cybersecurity.

Authentication

Authentication is the process of verifying an authorized user of a technological system. Without highly encrypted healthcare networks requiring authentication at various points, the world of healthcare data would be all but open to would-be intruders.

Luckily, factors like biometric authentication are becoming increasingly utilized in the COVID landscape of at-home workers. Biometric authentication requires verification of a present and living user through biological features like their face or fingerprint. This systems check for “liveliness” so attempting to hack them through likeness imagery is difficult. This makes biometric systems more secure and faster than passwords.

Here are some of the many ways healthcare networks are using biometric authentication to verify users:

  • Facial recognition
  • Fingerprint recognition
  • Iris scanning
  • Voice recognition

Accessibility

In the pandemic world, little is more important than healthcare accessibility without the risk. For the most vulnerable patients, going to see a doctor represents a risk in itself. That is why the emergence of telemedicine is changing the way healthcare IT systems function. 

More than ever, telemedicine is an option. This allows patients to speak to their healthcare providers through video call rather than the traditional office visit, opening up care accessibility to the vulnerable and those living in rural areas. Before COVID, telehealth options were occasionally available but largely unpopular. Since COVID, the use of telehealth has grown by as much as 50%

But telehealth isn’t the only digital transformation in the healthcare sector that is putting patients first. The use of smartphones and the Internet of Things (IoT) devices has brought a revolution to the way patient records are managed. Now, transparency in medical billing and insurance coverage is more possible than ever through records kept and accessible from a phone or home computer. Long after COVID, this level of accessibility and clarity will likely be the norm. 

Cybersecurity 

A host of cybersecurity measures are being enacted to protect patient data from the increased risk caused by COVID. Among these healthcare data protections are policies both emerging and those tried-and-true. As care facilities seek the means to accommodate increasing demand with remote solutions, these policies have been quickly integrated and will likely be around for a long while to come. 

These cybersecurity protections include:

  • Firewalls
  • VPNs
  • Data loss prevention software
  • Login and network monitoring
  • AI monitoring and security scanning
  • Blockchain systems

As the landscape of data protections changes, so do the tools used to manage data. WIth AI monitoring, millions of network access points can be scanned and analyzed instantaneously. Similarly, blockchains—decentralized and highly encrypted data networks—enable data to be stored safely beyond user access keys, preventing data theft and alteration. 

This new tech is driving the growth of the healthcare industry. An already booming field, healthcare IT will make up some of the 1.9 million jobs expected to emerge in healthcare by 2028. COVID-19 has in its way shaped some of this growth, prompting a variety of technological integrations more quickly. 

The impact of COVID-19 will likely not be known in full for some time, but the technological innovations it has prompted will be around for a long time to come. As healthcare IT workers struggle to keep networks safe, features like authentication, accessibility, and cybersecurity are trending in the industry. Each day, these technologies improve to better protect patient data for the increasingly digital world.

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