Alleviating health and digital threats depends on technology


By Vijay Sundaram*
Tuesday, 13 April, 2021



Alleviating health and digital threats depends on technology

As vaccination programs roll out in earnest across Australia, the healthcare industry faces its most significant test in a generation. However, while the industry contends with an extraordinary health threat, digital threats seek to exacerbate it. Concerningly, in November, the Australian Cyber Security Centre issued a warning having observed an increase in cybersecurity threats specifically targeting the healthcare industry.

As millions of Australians prepare for vaccinations, and the next stage in the gradual return to ‘normal’, the industry faces a momentous task safeguarding patient data and implementing the systems to successfully, efficiently and safely deliver a mass vaccination program. In order to do so, integration, automation and online safeguards have taken on greater significance.

Digital threats should not be ignored

When a global pandemic sweeps the world, it’s natural and understandable that the primary focus is on physical threats. However, cyber education is essential, too. While the situation in Australia has stabilised compared to many other countries, the only way to unburden healthcare providers and empower them to focus on vaccinations, and vaccinations only, is creating an environment in which cybersecurity isn’t forgotten, but actively monitored, managed and alleviated.

With bold vaccination targets, federal and state governments and healthcare providers may be tempted to cut corners. That, though, is short-sighted and inhibits the ability to safeguard against digital threats. Today many businesses rely on the collection of personal data for profit, creating an environment rife for unscrupulous hackers to actively seek out that information. Healthcare providers preside over huge databases containing highly personal and valuable information. As millions of Australians become eligible for vaccinations, these databases — and the targets placed on them — only grow.

From governments and policymakers through to health departments and frontline workers, there must be a concerted commitment and an honest, open and ongoing conversation about privacy and security, patient data and responsible practice. Everyone must understand what data is gathered, how and where it is stored, how to mitigate risk, and what to do in the event of a breach. Raising awareness of a threat that, for many, is so much harder to comprehend than physical threats isn’t easy, but doing so could be the difference between achieving or missing bold vaccination targets.

Sophisticated, 21st-century solutions

Technology is not just to safeguard, but to streamline, too. The healthcare industry generates an almost endless amount of data, not only from patients, but from insurance companies, scientific research, clinical trials, etc. The amount of medical data and research is not only vast, but rapidly growing; doubling at an astonishing rate. That fact alone demonstrates the overwhelming need to streamline and simplify, to improve vaccination rates.

Traditionally, though, the industry has been slow and cautious in its adoption of new technologies; content instead to rely on legacy software. Automation, machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence), for example, offer real-time insights that can improve the efficiency and speed of healthcare processes. It’s the difference between an effective rollout and a rollout in which valuable doses are wasted.

If applied well, cloud technologies can be integrated or embedded seamlessly within the current workflows and drive productivity, freeing healthcare providers to focus on the ‘human touch’. By enabling multiple departments to simultaneously and collaboratively access patient reports — from medical histories and insurance details, to prescriptions and discharge summaries — healthcare providers can streamline the flow of information, reduce waiting times and minimise errors. Crucially, as the demand for — and necessity of — telehealth appointments grows, it can be done both remotely and in real time.

On a broader scale, data analytics can help healthcare providers identify trends and monitor and understand key parameters such as patient visits, waiting and admission times, vaccination rates, vaccination effectiveness, and even speed bumps in the chain. Unlike most legacy software, cloud solutions are scalable, giving healthcare providers the flexibility to increase or decrease their capabilities depending on patient flow. That is particularly important today, when the industry is contending with an unprecedented burden.

Digital transformation is imperative, not just as Australia seeks to eradicate COVID-19, but indefinitely; both for periods of comparative ‘normality’ and in the event of other significant health outbreaks. This technology itself will not vaccinate Australia against COVID-19. However, it can dramatically unburden and safeguard the industry so it can think not about cyber threats, productivity issues and wasted doses, but delivering a safe, secure and efficient vaccination program.

*Vijay Sundaram is the Chief Strategy Officer at global technology platform Zoho, which offers 45+ apps in nearly every major business category, including sales, marketing, customer support, accounting and back-office operations, and an array of productivity and collaboration tools.

Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/tippapatt

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