From Security to Regulation: Exploring the Hidden Challenges of the Digital Health Revolution

The following is a guest article by Abhishek Khandelwal, Vice President, Life Sciences at Capgemini Engineering

The convergence of digital technology and healthcare has been underway for quite some time, but as we inch closer to 2024, the pace of change that this sector is experiencing is unprecedented. For an industry that typically trails “big tech” when it comes to software-enabled innovation, healthcare organizations are beginning to hone in on digital transformation and race ahead of the pack.

In the post-pandemic world of remote and hybrid healthcare, where health resources are strained, budgets are stretched thin, and patient outcomes are still paramount, digital tools are no longer just accessories; they are the key to providing an effective, proactive health service. From the automation of patient monitoring through advanced biometrics to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in diagnostics and imaging, digital technology is rapidly becoming indispensable to the medical community.

The Rise of Digital Technology in Healthcare

One of the most prevalent use cases of digital technology in healthcare today is remote patient monitoring and diagnostics. By leveraging wearable devices and cloud-based telemedicine platforms, healthcare professionals can now monitor patients in real-time, ensuring timely interventions and personalized care. Advanced imaging techniques are also revolutionizing diagnostic procedures, offering invaluable insights into disease progression and treatment efficacy.

Data-driven drug discovery and development is another area where digital technology is having a massive impact. The use of AI and machine learning (ML) to analyze vast datasets is allowing researchers to identify potential drug candidates faster and more accurately than traditional methods. The manufacturing of new drugs is also vastly improved thanks to process automation, ensuring consistency, scalability, and a faster time to market.

The benefits associated with digital technology – whether currently available or still in the early stages – are difficult to overstate, but if the healthcare industry is to maintain its current pace of innovation, there are several inherent challenges around data privacy, regulation, and legacy technology that must be overcome.

Challenges Around Data Security and Privacy

As enterprises across the healthcare industry increasingly integrate digital tools into their core operations, the volume of data being generated, processed, and stored is growing exponentially. From patient health records to intricate molecular structures of potential drug compounds, the digital landscape of healthcare is ripe with sensitive information. According to one source, a staggering 30% of the world’s data volume is now being generated by the healthcare industry. By 2025, that figure is expected to reach 36%. That means healthcare data is being generated 6% faster than manufacturing, 10% faster than financial services, and 11% faster than media and entertainment. This surge in digital data presents both an opportunity and a security challenge.

While this data facilitates real-time monitoring and timely interventions, it also exposes sensitive patient information to potential breaches. A single breach can compromise the health records of thousands, if not millions, of patients, leading to potential misuse of personal data and a loss of trust in digital healthcare solutions. Of course, safeguarding patient data has always been important, but as malicious threat actors increasingly focus their crosshairs on healthcare organizations, the industry has had to invest heavily in cybersecurity solutions. In 2022, healthcare organizations globally averaged 1,463 cyberattacks per week, up 74% from the previous year. Healthcare is now among the most targeted industries, often inflicted with ransomware or state-sponsored attacks aimed at disrupting vital infrastructure.

This ties closely to privacy concerns. The increasing digitization of patient data means that ensuring its security and privacy has become a more nuanced process. It’s no longer a case of locking a filing cabinet or restricting access to a particular computer terminal. With so many partners and vendors now participating along the digital health chain, from device manufacturers and researchers to cloud and healthcare providers the digital footprint of patient data is larger than ever. That means a broader attack surface area, greater vulnerability, and more exposure to risk.

Integration and Regulation

As with any form of broad-sweeping digital transformation, integration is key. The healthcare sector relies on a wide variety of tools and platforms, and they cannot be replaced wholesale. Healthcare providers, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and medical technology specialists will all need to take a phased approach to deploying new technologies.

Taking a phased approach is a calculated way to mitigate the challenge of budget constraints while ensuring that the organization has time to vet new technologies and confirm they’re fit for purpose. What’s further, an incremental approach to technological advancement will allow leaders to stay on task and build out their strategy carefully. For new components to be deployed, they must be interoperable with legacy systems to some degree, guaranteeing that the flow of traffic is sustained, and vital services aren’t interrupted.

The same goes for regulation. Digital tools, especially those used in patient care, must meet stringent regulatory standards that are constantly being updated to keep pace with innovation. Navigating these approval processes can be time-consuming and complex.

Overcoming the Challenges

While the healthcare industry is certainly facing difficult challenges, they are not insurmountable. Companies operating in this field are already investing heavily in state-of-the-art cybersecurity solutions to protect patient data and ensure system integrity. End-to-end encryption, periodic risk assessments, backup and recovery systems, multi-factor authentication, and advanced real-time threat detection – all things that tech-based businesses have been adopting for years – are now firmly a part of the organizational structure.

When it comes to legacy systems and interoperability, standards such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) are being adopted to ensure diverse systems can communicate effectively – not just within the organization, but across the entire industry. This means that individual organizations can adopt the technologies and tools that are right for them, while still being able to relay and receive data along the healthcare chain.

Moreover, the healthcare sector is working diligently to navigate the complex landscape of regulations. Digital tools, especially those used in patient care, must meet stringent regulatory standards that are constantly being updated to keep pace with innovation. Navigating these approval processes can be time-consuming and complex, but it’s a crucial step in ensuring the safety and efficacy of digital healthcare solutions.

One way that healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and technology specialists can work together to ensure regulatory compliance is to participate in regulatory sandboxes. Regulatory sandboxes are programs that allow companies to test new digital health tools in a controlled environment with the oversight of regulators. This can help companies to identify and address regulatory challenges early on in the development process, which can save time and money in the long run.

The digital transformation of the healthcare industry is an exciting road ahead. The promise of revolutionized patient care, streamlined operations, and groundbreaking drug discoveries is within reach, and enterprises are beginning to push the boundaries of innovation to reach these goals.

Before this transformation can be fully realized, however, there are significant challenges that need to be addressed. Leaders should begin evaluating how to put the right strategies in place and commit to continuous innovation. With this mindset, the healthcare industry is well poised to harness the full potential of digital tools and usher in a new era of healthcare excellence.

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