The annual healthcare IT conference HIMSS was one of the first conferences to be canceled as the COVID-19 virus spread across the United States in March 2020. It was also one of the first major conferences to return to an in-person format, with a virtual option, in August 2021. In addition to ushering in a semblance of normalcy for healthcare IT professionals, this year’s conference also ushered in a digital health revolution.
“It was great to be back on-site and attending sessions in person,” shared John Wilson from SolarWinds during a recent conversation with Future Healthcare Today. “While many attendees opted to take advantage of the virtual option with the rise of the Delta variant, for those of us who were in person, it was an important opportunity to safely meet with our healthcare industry colleagues.”
While meeting in person quickly became familiar territory once more, what wasn’t quite so familiar was the conversation around healthcare IT. “A great deal has changed in the last 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic started,” explained Wilson. “While the pandemic caused financial hardships for many providers by requiring all their resources to be focused on treating COVID-19 patients, it also helped move the needle on the adoption of digital health.”
For example, for years, it seems, the healthcare industry has been talking about the benefits of telehealth, virtual care, and in-home device monitoring but seldom saw it in action. However, once the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, hospitals and healthcare providers were able to roll out telehealth and virtual care in a matter of weeks, and in some cases days. “The pandemic demonstrated the healthcare industry can change and adapt quickly when change is essential. And with the success of telehealth, virtual care, and in-home device monitoring, I believe we’ll see a long-standing shift on this front as there are many benefits beyond the pandemic,” shared Wilson.
But with more technology in use, IT environments tend to become more complex, much to the chagrin of in-house IT teams and the glee of cyberattackers. “For every telehealth instance and every in-home device monitored by a provider, there are myriad challenges on the back end,” explained Wilson. “These two examples, in particular, trigger issues with PII and HIPAA compliance and should raise questions about the organization’s overall security posture and its ability to patch in a timely manner at scale.”
Wilson recommends healthcare organizations look to streamline IT management to reduce the array of challenges and automate areas that are the source of greatest error, such as patch management and device updates. “Being able to streamline IT delivery and automate security updates helps the in-house IT team do more with less and focus on the tasks unique to their organization,” he added. “Imagine the burden removed from an IT team when they have the ability to automate patching with standardized configurations, continuously enforcing hospital network security controls, then at the click of a button demonstrate compliance with audit-ready reports for HIPAA, PCI, etc.; it’s transformational.”
As healthcare organizations across the United States look to a future beyond COVID-19 and to continuing to build on the digital transformation programs ushered in as a result of the pandemic, the ability to streamline IT operations should be top of mind. “Healthcare organizations can only benefit from easing the burden on IT teams in terms of improving their security posture, reducing operations costs, and reducing errors,” Wilson concluded. “However, in the end, while these benefits to the organization are undeniable, they also facilitate the ability to improve patient outcomes and experience. And, that, after all, is the most important part of healthcare.”