Digitalising healthcare: the key to being secure and agile
Mon 9 Mar 2020 | Justin Day
How can the NHS achieve its aim of becoming digital and agile?
As enterprises go digital and integrate new technologies into their business, public sector organisations have been left scrambling to keep up with the new digital age. This is a mammoth challenge for a public institution like the NHS which operates across a massive scale and hosts huge amounts of data.
It’s not as simple as moving away from legacy infrastructure to a cloud platform in a few easy steps. It’s a complicated project that encompasses different areas including cyber security, networking, data and cloud. The issue facing the NHS and other public sector organisations is prioritising one area without compromising another. It’s a careful balancing act to ensure that the NHS can achieve its aim of becoming digital and agile, whilst deploying a stringent cyber security strategy in order to protect its new digital system, critical services and confidential data.
Digital and agile transformation
Among many government initiatives to transform the public sector, driving digital innovation in the healthcare system falls under the Government’s initiative summarised in ‘Personalised Health & Care 2020’. Within this, one of the many projects being led by NHS Digital is ‘Paperless 2020’ which focuses on the use of data and technology infrastructure to better coordinate the healthcare sector and achieve the broader goals outlined.
With demand on NHS services continuing to soar, there is a big push for the use of new digital technologies such as AI and cloud platforms in order to relieve some of the pressure and to better store and control the mass amounts of data being produced daily. Key to this development is having an agile network that will improve user experience and allow organisations to better implement new technology.
This is where the use of cloud can be extremely beneficial in providing platforms that host applications and systems based on suitability, instead of being shoe-horned into one single data centre. Typically, having only one data centre prevented diversity and risked network-wide blackouts if one area shut down. With cloud, organisations can diversify their data and applications to lessen the impact if something goes wrong, and can scale up or down flexibly as needed. This avoids repeating the chaos that resulted from the 2017 WannaCry attack that shut down some NHS services, cancelled appointments and led to a huge million-pound bill.
Organisations have got to make sure they don’t go in all guns blazing, however. To get the best benefits from the cloud, you need to make sure that you’ve picked the right cloud platforms that suit your own individual business. For larger organisations or those with legacy IT infrastructure, such as the NHS, cloud allows them to work smoothly, quickly and efficiently whilst managing the abundance of data.
However, true network agility can’t happen overnight. The Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) is a unified private network that health and social care parties can access. As a standards-based network, it allows organisations to obtain connectivity solutions from multiple service providers. While different areas of the NHS have switched to different cloud providers and deployed new technologies, this has been a helpful stepping stone in diversifying the network and enabling greater agility.
Boosting cyber strength
While promising huge and necessary improvements to the healthcare system, organisations must be aware of the risks associated with deploying new technologies. As organisations become more reliant on the new digital tools, they must ensure that cyber security is equally as prioritised in order to shut down the potential risks from unauthorised system access, to cyber hacking and data breaches. The more technology used, especially with cloud solutions, the more entry points there are for cyber criminals to exploit.
Organisations must also remember that external parties aren’t the only cyber threat; internal issues can easily become a cyber issue, through vulnerable infrastructure or uneducated personnel. This can easily be solved by ensuring that there is a CSO or CISO who can conduct a cyber maturity assessment to determine potential risks, and from that, develop a cyber security strategy designed to proactively mitigate against weaknesses.
Centralising connectivity is a key step to establishing a singular accurate source of truth and in turn, allowing the cyber team to monitor activity across the network and organisation. In tandem, cyber security training must be made compulsory for all personnel, from the most junior staff to the most senior directors, to eradicate silly mistakes and educate employees on common cyber attack tactics. A thorough and robust cyber security strategy is vital in healthcare, both for maintaining critical services and protecting the data, safety and privacy of patients.
Walking the priority tightrope
Digitalising the healthcare system is a mammoth task involving significant investment and dozens of organisations and third parties. In order to become truly agile and benefit from the deployment of new technology, organisations must ensure they are choosing the best solutions to fit their needs and structure. The NHS can undoubtedly benefit from the flexibility, cost reduction, and agility that comes from digitally transforming systems but must ensure they equally prioritise cyber security to mitigate risks and ensure that the organisation can run smoothly without disruption.