The Three Biggest IT Challenges Healthcare has to Solve

February 26, 2018

There are three major challenges in healthcare IT today, and you’re likely contending with at least one, if not all of them.

When we walk into a doctor’s office, nothing is more important than knowing we’re receiving quality care and effective treatment. Similarly, a hospital’s staff needs to know it has the most reliable IT resources and support to deliver exceptional service—now more than ever. Healthcare is charging forward into new technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning that herald the future of better patient care and interaction. At the same time, IT teams in these organizations face numerous challenges: aging systems, outdated applications, and security risks unprecedented in complexity and volume.

The adoption of new and significantly advanced applications combined with sensitive patient data and old systems can not only limit an organization’s efficiencies, but also pose serious risks.

  1. The balancing act of bimodal IT

Your organization is likely exploring new ways to interact with patients to keep up with what consumers have come to expect from brands they engage with in other industries: more self-service options, analytics, and more dynamic communication to name a few. But introducing new platforms into existing systems can introduce new problems, too.

Continually adding on new systems means your IT infrastructure is a bit of a mixed bag, with some mission-critical operations on legacy IT patched together with born-in-the-cloud applications for less-regulated functions. Your staff not only has to learn how to use the new applications and tools, but those in charge of maintenance, security and recovery will face new complexities in your IT environment in the event of a disaster.

And rather than focusing on system-wide updates and big-picture strategy, the bimodal model seeks to expand certain areas rapidly, then leaves others behind. It splits your IT team’s focus as it tries to manage both of these worlds.

  1. Leaving behind the data center

Your organization would likely love to leave the headaches of managing a data center behind for some very practical reasons. On-premises systems strain your resources, requiring a full-time staff and costly maintenance. Having your operations in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, and outsourcing the equipment and operating costs would be easier on your budget.

But frankly, it’s a lot of work to move mission-critical data and operations, not to mention risky. For instance, in many cases, your admission, discharge and transfer (ADT) system is left behind on legacy IT. With medical records and patient contact information housed in this system, you may be looking at HIPAA violations if something goes wrong.

With the complex infrastructure of data centers, the hundreds of applications and decades’ worth of sensitive data involved, it’s not surprising that many organizations put this project off as long as possible.

  1. Keeping up with security

This is the biggest pain point. Hackers know they can find weaknesses in legacy IT environments running on outmoded systems. Add to this the sensitivity of the data in question and your IT system is a compelling target for hackers.

The targets of exploitation and foul play are changing. Hackers have noticeably shifted their focus from black market medical records to a bigger payday with ransomware. The May 2017 WannaCry attack crippled many National Health Service (NHS) IT systems simply by infiltrating a weakness that should have been patched months prior.

What you may not realize is that your internet connection, third-party vendors and even your staff put you at risk for cyberattacks and outages. With transactions a day, there are plenty of opportunities for sensitive data to be compromised.

The cure for healthcare’s IT challenges

With the time, cost and vulnerabilities associated with migrating to the cloud on one hand, and the complexities and security risks you face with bimodal IT and data centers on the other, what’s the solution?

Implement a cloud-like model. Ultimately, healthcare IT does need to move to the cloud, as the old way of doing things is untenable, and in the long term, unsafe. One way to build a bridge from legacy IT is using a hosted private cloud. It offers the security and privacy legacy IT is known for, with the elastic capabilities of the public cloud.

A hosted private cloud holds a lot of potential to improve current healthcare systems. For example, hospitals would be able to use more dynamic applications that can leverage all the data they collect to improve care.

Bridge the gap between legacy IT and the cloud. Not every healthcare application or workload is suited for the hosted private cloud. But it’s not all or nothing. Tier your move to a hosted private cloud model by moving less critical workloads first. Don’t leave behind your mission-critical operations longer than necessary—the faster you can move them to the hosted private cloud, the faster they’ll become more secure.

Add managed security. With managed security, you don’t have to rely on an in-house IT team to make security updates manually or be burdened with the responsibility of recovering your applications and data. Having a third party monitor for security threats and make necessary updates means you’ll have a dedicated team around the clock, leaving your organization less prone to cyberattacks. While security should still be top of mind for healthcare organizations, having help with managing security can free some time for your IT team to spend its time on other strategic priorities.

Even with the best security measures, there are no guarantees that an organization will be completely protected from a cyberattack. Unlike other industries, there is no downtime in healthcare. If an organization’s IT system is attacked, it still must accept and care for patients, and it must be able to record and access patient records seamlessly to ensure the best care and also stay in compliance with HIPAA and HITECH.

Healthcare organizations are always going to be susceptible to this risk. Isolated recovery--keeping a copy of data off site and disconnected from the impacted systems--can help. After systems have been compromised, staff may have to manage records by hand until applications are recovered, but isolated recovery can ensure the organization will at least have access to critical patient data.

Keep an eye on compliance and leftover legacy IT. Compliance issues are often hurdles to making IT advancements in healthcare. But as it turns out, it’s easier to follow regulations like HIPAA and HITECH in the cloud. Some systems won’t be able to move off legacy IT, either as a result of strict governance or due to the way an application is built. Someday they may be rebuilt for the cloud, but for now, you can work with a partner who has expert knowledge of legacy systems and turn them into as-a-service models. Your partner can manage these for you, and can eventually move them into a public or private cloud platform.

Focus on long-term improvement

Through better use of data, we can provide better care, better use of data, and a better patient-physician experience that will help us all breathe a little easier.

It helps to have a reliable partner who can manage the process of carefully migrating data to a hosted private cloud. Sungard AS powered by Dell EMC together to help companies embrace healthcare IT that’s ready for tomorrow’s challenges. Take a look at what we can do.

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