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How Healthcare Cios and Clinical Engineering Join Forces in Healthcare Cybersecurity

As medical technology evolves, devices become more interconnected with the data that they collect. In order to automate more features and improve the quality of patient care, many medical devices have incorporated custom computing capabilities into their design. These advancements require clinical engineers to consider device security when creating and managing new medical equipment.

Contributed by Eddie Myers, Crothall Healthcare Program Manager for Cybersecurity Solutions

Clinical engineers need to work together with CIOs and IT departments to develop innovative devices while protecting valuable healthcare information and regulating who can access protected health data. While the idea of managing a network of devices is relatively new to clinical engineers, incorporating cybersecurity measures into their product management process is becoming more and more common. Here’s how you can nurture successful product development and support your hospital’s cybersecurity efforts by cultivating collaboration between your hospital’s IT professionals and clinical engineers. 

Focus on risk management

Cybersecurity has two critical functions in healthcare: protecting private health information and ensuring devices function properly. In an unprotected network, security breaches put patients at risk of identity theft, and hackers can use malware to take full control of medical devices. Clinical engineers rely on IT departments to help develop risk management strategies for devices, software, and networks.

Healthcare CIOs, IT healthcare cybersecurity teams and clinical engineers should begin each product design and implementation project by auditing its inherent vulnerabilities and risks. While all network devices carry some level of risk, the ability to store and immediately transmit patient data with innovations such as electronic health records, for example, provides a vast improvement in healthcare quality and access. Clinical engineers and healthcare IT departments can work together to consider risks associated with EHRs and other innovations, while also weighing the benefit to patients.

Collaborate on infrastructure requirements 

Clinical engineers are responsible for implementing medical technology, while IT professionals manage the infrastructure to support that technology. However, as medical technology becomes more service-oriented, the technical infrastructure itself is becoming an essential part of the implementation.

CIOs, IT security teams, and clinical engineers can take advantage of their different backgrounds by deciding what each device needs in terms of software, hardware, and network resources. Clinical engineers communicate patient needs and concerns to the IT department, who will develop network, device, and software security solutions accordingly.

Share team expertise 

As healthcare systems adapt to the quickly changing technological landscape, experienced healthcare professionals are an essential resource for organizations trying to keep up with the changing technological landscape. Healthcare CIOs should look for existing team members who have specialized IT expertise and encourage them to mentor and train clinical engineers as they collaborate.

Clinical engineers who have strong soft skills from their experience interacting with vendors and patients can, in turn, share these skills with IT professionals interested in learning about business strategy. Creating a culture that celebrates openly sharing skills and knowledge fosters the necessary environment essential for a health system to adopt new technology without compromising healthcare cybersecurity. 

Develop best practices for support 

While clinical engineers have significant expertise in maintaining medical technology and providing customer support for network issues, security concerns typically involve more in-depth knowledge of IT strategies. Healthcare CIOs with a strong background in IT can use their experience to create a framework for troubleshooting medical devices to share with their hospital’s clinical engineers. Collaborating on product maintenance strategies can help institutions develop best practices that evolve with the technology they support.   

Prepare for increased demand 

Integrating clinical engineering with data science may be more efficient in the long run, but healthcare systems must undergo a transition phase to appreciate the full benefits of this convergence. As IT professionals help train clinical engineers to prepare them for working with network technology, the department’s overall workload will increase. Healthcare CIOs can help by working with clinical engineers to create a list of primary objectives and then prioritize IT assignments based on those needs. Consider outsourcing other elements of IT work to let staff focus on cybersecurity and get up to speed during this period of ramped-up demand. 

Develop interdepartmental accountability 

Emphasize that both IT professionals and clinical engineers share responsibility in creating and maintaining security measures for new applications of medical technology. Aligning IT strategy with clinical outcomes can help every person on a team understand that their overall goal in the workplace extends beyond their specific responsibilities. Encourage mutual communication by asking for feedback on how each department could better support the other while merging their projects. 

Migrate legacy systems 

Legacy systems are healthcare devices with outdated software or hardware that falls below the current standards for clinical technology, including security standards. A legacy system might have software from a company that no longer supports that device, a homemade interface that can’t interact with other medical devices, or a non-standard programming language that makes it incompatible with updates.

Clinical engineers can strengthen overall cybersecurity by phasing out legacy systems and streamlining network technology. Replacing a legacy system with new medical equipment requires an in-depth understanding of the processes performed by the old system and how they can be improved. Clinical engineers gather this information, then collaborate with IT to develop the necessary infrastructure for an update. They can then help IT professionals create comprehensive and secure network support by developing an implementation plan and creating a strategic timeline for replacing legacy systems with new technology.

Interested in learning about Crothall’s clinical engineers can help at your hospital?

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