By Baha Zeidan, co-founder and CEO, Azalea Health.
Rural hospitals are facing an exorbitant amount of pressure, and the pressure doesn’t seem likely to subside any time soon.
Whether it’s the ongoing labor shortage, the constantly changing regulatory environment or other market forces, the headwinds, at times, seem insurmountable. Couple those concerns with the constant worries about cyberattacks and security vulnerabilities, and the moment seems even more challenging.
It’s not that rural health organizations can’t tackle any of the issues head-on. It’s more a matter of rural health organizations often don’t have the staff or resources to address this topic.
As a result, security is often an afterthought. How rural hospitals and communities focus on security presents an interesting dilemma because they’re vulnerable from a cybersecurity side and particularly vulnerable if their security posture is left unaddressed.
According to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, 150 rural hospitals nationwide closed between 2005 and 2019, and even more closed in 2020. While funding has helped slow the trend of closures amid the pandemic, rural providers still face challenges, partly because they have higher proportions of vulnerable patients, the elderly or the chronically ill.
However, rural health providers still have an arrow left in their quiver: technology. Increasingly, they’re turning to technology to ensure their staff can focus on delivering quality healthcare to patients without forgoing the most pressing needs and cybersecurity in particular.
Cybersecurity is the centerpiece of the path forward
Last year was among the worst years for ransomware attacks on healthcare. Healthcare is an ideal target; private health data is lucrative to sell on the dark web, and providers are more likely to pay ransoms with lives on the line.
Ransomware-as-a-service has also made it easier than ever to launch an attack, making it critical to invest in health IT platforms with built-in security solutions.
However, many rural providers cannot afford to invest in the same technology as their larger counterparts. They often face lean IT teams and limited budgets, constraining their investments and limiting what percentage of their budget they can spend on security.
Rural providers often find themselves on the unfortunate side of the digital divide, whether it’s clinician shortages or a suboptimal revenue cycle that results in a lack of capital. The result is that they may be unaware of the latest security updates, and even if they are, they often can’t implement them.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Rural providers can take steps to stay secure.