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How healthcare organisations can protect data

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Healthcare data has increased 878% since 2016 and we must do more to protect it. Here James Norman, healthcare CIO at Dell Technologies (EMEA), explains how.

What can only be described as a shock to the system, the outbreak of COVID-19 sparked significant changes to the entire health sector; uprooting standard practices, introducing new uniform requirements and implementing new technologies at record speeds.

The sector’s response to the pandemic has impressed us all and as we look beyond today’s implementation, we remind ourselves of the significance of data management and protection.

There’s no overstating the importance of data. In many ways, it is the currency upon which so much of the healthcare industry is run. It is data that will drive our potential healthcare breakthroughs to develop vaccines, cancer treatments and surgical procedures.

With a  reported 878% increase in healthcare data since 2016, it is crucial that this data is protected, secure and accessible to healthcare professionals at every hour of every day.

However, according to the Dell EMC  Global Data Protection Index, only 17% of healthcare organisations believe their current data protection solutions will be able to meet their future data protection needs and requirements.

A new approach to data protection is needed to ensure that critical healthcare data is efficiently protected, secure, compliant and easily accessible to healthcare professionals worldwide so that they can deliver better patient outcomes, maximise research benefits and as a result improve our quality of life.

Healthcare organisations have been embracing digital technologies including electronic health records (EHR), mobile health apps, connected devices and IoT sensors that capture troves of patient data, activity information, doctors’ notes and more. Statistics from the same research found that larger healthcare organisations managed 8.41 petabytes (PB) of data in 2018 compared to 0.86PB managed in 2016.

These EHRs interact with multiple functions across hospital environments. For example, cardiology, ophthalmology, picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) capture X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and other image data, while other systems run next-generation workloads such as digital pathology and genomics.

Ideally, healthcare professionals will one day be able to leverage all this data to provide highly targeted and personalised medical treatments that will dramatically improve patient outcomes while lowering the cost of healthcare, enabling data-driven, higher-quality healthcare at scale.

Generating clinical value ultimately comes from joining existing and new data together in novel ways to discover actionable insights – like those found in advanced medical imaging and genomics – all while protecting that data wherever it resides. Whilst we cannot deny that all data is important, the protection of patient data is paramount. Without underplaying the significance of cybercriminals and their impact on businesses, if health data is misplaced or incorrectly stored the impact will be life threatening.

Before healthcare professionals can fully harness the power of their data, they need to overcome these healthcare data protection challenges:

  1. Soaring Data Growth: As data volumes grow, so does the amount of time required to manage, move and recover the data. And as new workloads are introduced, the problem gets compounded. With limited resources available, healthcare IT professionals need automated ways to ensure data is always accessible, secure and compliant.
  2. Distributed Data: Data now lives across core data centres, edge locations and multi-cloud environments. Healthcare IT professionals need solutions that allow them to have broad visibility into where their data resides and data protection policies that follow workloads wherever they live without requiring manual intervention, in order to comply with GDPR regulations.
  3. Increased Cyberthreats: Malware and ransomware attacks are more and more prevalent, impacting all industries including healthcare clinics, clinicians’ offices and other healthcare institutions.

Fortunately, there are solutions to help healthcare organisations simplify data protection while delivering the backup and recovery performance and scalability required to meet these data protection challenges.

These solutions enable healthcare organisations to protect any application workload in any location across on-premises data centres, edge locations and multi-cloud environments. And they work with a wide ecosystem of partner solutions to deliver added capabilities like data classification to ensure compliance with regulatory mandates.

These solutions also provide essential recovery capabilities for the risks posed by ransomware, malware and other cyberthreats by employing integrated, air-gapped data protection. On top of this, they are extremely efficient. They can dramatically reduce the storage footprint required on-premise and in the cloud to protect data while lowering the amount of network bandwidth and time required to back up critical applications.

However, first healthcare organisations must develop a data protection strategy based on business needs in relation to their budget, current IT environment, data size and type. Then, driven by their needs — whether it’s cybersecurity resiliency, local backups or disaster recovery — they must consider how they protect their data. Options range from on-premise solutions, to integrated appliances, to cloud and as-a-service offerings.

As a healthcare organisation you can take comfort in working with a trusted technology solutions partner, especially when the data protection approach is part of a larger digital transformation journey.

As organisations continue to evolve, putting data first will be vital to ensure that health organisations are not left behind and can safely manage with the applications of today that are cloud native. An area that is generating particular excitement is the rise of telemedicine in society today.

Telemedicine is bridging the gap between health care providers and communities. Health companies are innovating at speed to ensure they are providing people with the necessary tools required to access high quality care.

For those that didn’t already use such solutions pre-pandemic, patients are fully embracing the virtual era of new digital services that are paving the way for future care. These solutions bring higher risk however and a data breach could undermine the confidence in such applications slowing the progress made to date in establishing these solutions as core tools for the improved provision of patient care.

The industry has achieved so much in what has been an incredibly intense period of time. What is certain is that the future of healthcare is remarkably promising, despite the enormous pressure that COVID-19 has put on healthcare providers across the world.

Looking beyond COVID-19, it will be those institutions that make data protection a foundational element of their digital transformation journeys today that will be safeguarding the keys that unlock the doors to medical cures in the coming years.

We’ll have more personalisation, more convenience, better medical training, which in essence all boils down to improving patient centricity and care. Whilst this time has not been easy, those working in the healthcare space have collaborated to create a seismic shift in our attitude to technology adoption that we will all benefit from in years to come.

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