Rapid acceleration of digital health comes with a security focus

David McClure

The pandemic has instigated a step change in how Australians access healthcare. 

Australia has had the infrastructure in place for a decade, with the launch of My Health Record and the transformation of it into an opt-out service four years ago. 

But it took the pandemic for most Australians to properly embrace and support digital healthcare and services. Healthcare involves the most sensitive information on individuals as possible, and ensuring cybersecurity and privacy keeps pace with the growth in digital healthcare is vital. 

We have witnessed an unprecedented change in all parts of the system over the past two and a half years, said Australian Digital Health Agency chief executive Amanda Cattermole.

“Due to the fact we were able to be the one place where people could get their test results and see their vaccination certificate and all of their other health data, all of a sudden the sense of why this is critical for Australia more generally went through the roof.” 

Ms Cattermole discussed the rise of digital healthcare and the security and identity risks and opportunities this has presented in an Identity Inside/Out: Getting ID Right podcast, hosted by InnovationAus publisher Corrie McLeod and featuring SailPoint Australia and New Zealand country manager Nam Lam. 

“What that has meant is this thing that was always envisioned when this was set up a decade ago was this virtuous circle – the more you have in there, the more of it is in use,” added Ms Cattermole. “The more of it is in use, the more consumers look at it and engage with their health data.” 

There has been a 1,000 per cent increase in people accessing their immunisation records, according to Ms Cattermole, and a 300 per cent increase in consumers going into their records in general in the last two and a half years. 

Digital healthcare is underpinned by authentication and security standards, and these elements need to be in place while this massive scaling is taking place. 

“It has to be trusted, reliable and secure – part of the DNA of my agency is our expertise in keeping it safe and secure, so you know your information is safe,” Ms Cattermole said. “This is very personal information for people – people need to know it’s always available.” 

According to an Office of the Australian Information Commissioner survey, 70 per cent of Australians see privacy as a major concern, and healthcare is the number one sector in terms of data breaches. 

The growth in digital healthcare has placed pressure on backend providers, Mr Lam said. 

“Logically if you’ve got more digital patient inquiries coming through, that’s going to cause more strain,” Mr Lam said. “We’re seeing that flow-on impact on healthcare providers – it is a challenge, but it creates a whole bunch of opportunities for us to explore moving into the future. 

“What really doesn’t help is when you see cyber attack horror stories or data breaches,” he added. “If we want to build on that trust factor, we need to try to reduce the data breaches. There is no silver bullet in addressing that.” 

Ms Cattermole said it’s important there is a balance between this privacy and security, and the ability for important health information to be accessible when it’s needed. 

“The debate in Australia has really deepened now – we want to know it’s private and secure but we need to think about how it’s shared for benefit and potentially for the benefit of health more generally at a population level,” she said. 

Thanks to the massive acceleration driven by the pandemic, many healthcare providers are now scrambling to ensure security is up to scratch, Mr Lam said. 

“I think a lot of healthcare providers are playing catch up,” he said. “The pandemic has been somewhat of a wake-up call – a lot of them have realised how under-invested they’ve been in the digital and cyber space.” 

Mr Lam said he was recently speaking with a CISO at a private hospital who said that the healthcare space is in a similar position to where banking was 10 to 15 years ago. 

“The pressure is now on to digitise, and we need to digitise fast. Our view is that with more digitisation, this translates to the cyber threat landscape growing. Looking into the future, let’s look at what banking is doing and that’s where healthcare may be moving,” he said. 

The Australian Digital Health Agency is now looking to build out its exchange gateways in the My Health Record system.

If all of these parts come together and digital healthcare is trusted and secure, the growth in digital healthcare won’t be stopping any time soon. 

“Once you’ve got that exchange across all parts of the system, you bring it into the hands of the consumer by creating an app,” Ms Cattermole said. “Then all of a sudden, you’ve got real-time information in your hands for you to engage with and your care team starts to orbit around you and not the other way around. That’s the big transformation in health.” 

This podcast series is being produced by InnovationAus.com in partnership with Sailpoint.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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