A triage ward for technology, or: Protecting the 'digital health' of a modern hospital

For hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, patients and staff, there are justifiable worries about physical threats like so-called "superbugs" and various hypothetical (for now) public health epidemics.

Of equal concern should be the vulnerability of the technological infrastructure – the hospital made flesh, so to speak – that is just as susceptible to collapse and confusion from a viral attack that can fell, albeit in a different way, the strongest of men and women.

Hospitals must, in other words, be more selective in choosing the firm responsible for everything from web hosting and domain names to virtual and dedicated servers to Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection. For, without the requisite due diligence and in the absence of the necessary customer support, a hospital can be operational but nonetheless dysfunctional.

That is, without an experienced, responsive and professional Web partner – a hospital can look stable, and the foot traffic and the sundry sounds of medical machinery can be an audible statement of the same – but, beneath that surface and within the interlocking helices of red, blue, yellow, black and green wires, that hospital's online presence may be seconds from vanishing; a digital flat line, signaling the loss of that institution's presence online.

We need to be more aware of these threats because the stakes are so high, and the consequences of failure are too devastating for many of us to imagine, because we cannot have exceptional health care, on the one hand, and mediocre (at best) "Web care," on the other.

I issue this warning, not because I believe fear will motivate hospital administrators to react quickly to this problem, but because I know these individuals need to understand the full depth of this challenge.

For example: In the course of my research, and in my correspondence with experts who oversee state-of-the-art data centers for LCN.com, one of the leading advocates of enhanced online security, I now have a much better appreciation of the magnitude of – and the solutions for – this cyber conflict.
Indeed, there is a technological corollary that encapsulates this situation quite well. It is, in fact, an analogy about the importance of having a good bedside manner; which is to say, for a patient to entrust a doctor with performing a lifesaving procedure – for that man or woman to have confidence in a surgeon's skills, as well as the talents of a surgical team of anesthesiologists, resident surgeons, scrub nurses and medical students – is similar to a hospital bestowing its approval on a group of Web experts charged with the awesome duty of maintaining the digital wellness of that acclaimed institution.

My suggestion to readers is, therefore, very straightforward: Credibility matters a lot, since these "digital doctors" must be available without delay, and they must be intelligent and intelligible; they must possess the one asset that no business can purchase, and no person can absorb by osmosis, speed reading or any other purported short cut.

That commodity is wisdom.

A wise and adaptable team, ready to meet any crisis and endure the trials of any foe, from hackers and cyber thieves to malware and corrupt software, is what every hospital needs.

It is what every hospital administrator should review and adopt because, if unpreparedness and innocence about this potentially lethal (to a hospital's technological backbone) triumph, then that organization will soon be crippled by forces too powerful to envision and too vicious to conceptualize.

Avoiding this scenario must be a top priority.

Now is the time for Web health to prevail.

Now is the time for action.


A writer and health care activist, Lewis Fein addresses several issues involving technology and medicine. Based in Southern California, you may email him at feinlewis@gmail.com.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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