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Disruptors and Drivers of the Hospital’s Intelligent Network Edge

Matt McNeel Senior Director, U.S. Healthcare Published 1 Mar 2022

Healthcare is experiencing a significant shift when it comes to delivering patient care, expanding clinical services, and advancing digital transformation, all fueled by the global events of the previous two years.  At the heart this shift is large, acute care hospitals; a key cornerstone of large hospitals is the intelligent network edge – especially the wireless edge.

Much like the hospital environment itself, the network edge is dynamic, complex, and critical: thousands of devices and users connect, security measures are enforced, and advanced healthcare use cases are supported.  While the intelligent network edge presents the opportunity for healthcare innovation, it also creates significant business risk.

What do IT leaders need to be aware of when it comes to their intelligent network edge? Let’s explore real industry data, cite sources of vulnerabilities, and recommend the IT needs to mitigate risk.

Industry Numbers: Connected and Vulnerable Healthcare Environments

These are the real numbers (and real risks) facing connected hospitals and their supporting IT teams.

  • Connected Devices: On average, US hospitals report 10-15 connected medical devices per patient bed; some estimates note there are more than 350,000 connected devices in large hospitals [1]
  • Vulnerable Connections: Over half of all internet-connected devices commonly found in hospitals are vulnerable to cyberattack, a recent report found [2]
  • Cyberattacks in Healthcare: 82% of healthcare organizations have experienced an IoT-focused cyberattack, according to a recent healthcare end user survey [3]
  • Consequences: Ransomware cost hospitals nearly $21 billion in loses last year alone (2021) [4]

 A Deeper Dive: Healthcare Drivers and Pain Points

What are the industry trends, technology drivers, and points of vulnerability? Healthcare is more targeted for cyberattacks than any other industry.  Learn about a few key drivers and pain points.

  • Density and Growth of Devices, Users, IoT/MIoT

Hospitals are highly-connected, complex, and dynamic environments containing thousands of devices and users.  Between mission critical devices, IoT/MIoT, and BYOB devices – the number of devices and the amount of data transferred on a hospital’s IT wireless network continues to grow.  IoT/MIoT devices in particular pose a much greater security risk; for example, a recent study [3] indicated IV pumps make up 38% of a hospital’s IoT footprint, and 73% of those have vulnerability that would jeopardize patient safety, data confidentiaily, or service availability if exploited by a cyber attacker.

  • COVID-19 Pandemic

The global COVID-19 pandemic has elevated existing security threats and created new ones.  In general attackers have disproportionately targeted vulnerable and underprepared healthcare organizations, preying on the anxiety and chaos incited by COVID-19.  The bigger security issue resides in the expansion of healthcare services and environments brought on by the demand of the pandemic.  Extended and remote healthcare sites were created for testing and vaccination efforts; telehealth offerings have also spiked for patient convenience and safety measures.  Finally, more healthcare employees and staff were encouraged to work remotely to help prevent viral exposure and spread.  All of these factors heighten IT demand and security risk for healthcare.

  • Proliferation of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Wireless connectivity plays an active role in enabling healthcare’s digital transformation, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies are critical in allowing devices/users to connect, transfer data, deliver valuable services, and fuel innovation – leading to better patient experiences and operational efficiencies.  However, for the reasons cited above and more, the wireless airspace of a hospital is one of the most vulnerable points of its IT network.  Healthcare’s IT teams need to mitigate risk.  The combined expansion of healthcare’s business footprint with the abundance of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connected devices makes the need for an all-encompassing wireless monitoring, detection, and prevention solution essential.

Competencies IT Healthcare Teams Need Today 

With all these factors placing heightened demands on healthcare IT teams and their hospital’s intelligent network edge, specific tools are needed to maintain critical operations, protect business/patient data, and overall mitigate risk.

  • Comprehensive Wireless Security: a robust wireless security system, with 24/7/365 detection and intrusion prevention to ensure ubiquitous coverage across all WLAN networks, including Bluetooth devices.
  • Simplified and Autonomous Management: centralized platform across all connections and sensors, with accurate wireless vulnerability detection and notification of unusual network activity.
  • IoT and Medical IoT Device Monitoring: the ability to see, track, and support all IoT/MIoT devices in real time – and furthermore, classify what those devices are.
  • Advanced Reporting: detail report views and granular forensics for snapshot views and device action/movement replays of past network activity.
  • Compliance: meet regulatory compliance including HIPAA and GDPR.

Protecting a hospital’s intelligent network edge can be a challenging and precarious task.  The wireless security competencies listed above helps meet the heightened industry demands, optimize IT efficiencies, and prevent the business for becoming another unfortunate headline.

Related Resources:

While few tools in the market offer this level of functionality today, to explore a solution that does, check out the supporting resources to learn more:

Sources:

  1. Why Connected Medical Device Security Matters
  2. Is Your Hospital Safe from a Cyber Attack?
  3. Healthcare Organizations and IoT-Focused Cybersecurity Survey
  4. State of Healthcare IoT Device Security 2022

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