The COVID-19 pandemic has affected organizations in the healthcare sector worldwide. Hospitals and clinics have scrambled to ensure continued care while redirecting resources to frontline efforts to contain the virus. Pharmaceutical companies have had to grapple with global supply chain disruptions due to widespread manufacturing shutdowns and export restrictions.

At the same time, remote working has been mandated in many countries as part of measures to limit the spread of the virus. The healthcare and pharmaceutical industry is not the most naturally geared towards teleworking due to vast amounts of confidential patient data and proprietary information being accessed by employees daily. With employees in administrative and non-patient facing functions such as finance, human resources, and procurement now routinely working from home, healthcare and pharmaceutical firms face a fresh challenge in ensuring that business can continue securely.

A survey of more than 3,000 IT decision-makers across 21 markets in the Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe commissioned by Cisco from June to September last year reveals that 58% of organizations in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals sectors had more than half of their workforce working remotely, representing a significant increase from 16% pre-pandemic. Thirty-eight percent of organizations expect this to continue. The findings are captured in Cisco’s new Future of Secure Remote Work Report.

Neutralizing cyber threats and ensuring secure access

The healthcare sector is a popular target for cyberattacks due to the high value placed on medical data, which is estimated to be worth 10 to 50 times more than credit card data on the black market, according to experts. Since the start of the pandemic, hackers have taken advantage of the situation to launch more attacks – some to steal information related to the pandemic for fraud.

About half of the organizations surveyed from the healthcare and pharmaceuticals sectors (52%) reported a jump of 25% or more in cyber threats or alerts since the start of the pandemic. Eight percent did not even know whether the number of cyber threats or alerts has increased or decreased. Additionally, more than half of the respondents (56%) said they were only ‘somewhat’ prepared to support remote workforces at the pandemic’s outset and 1% were not prepared.

The increasing use of home networks and personal devices in remote working has also exposed more cybersecurity vulnerabilities. With employees connecting remotely to corporate systems, 54% of IT leaders said that secure access is their top cybersecurity challenge, while personal devices (55%) and office computers (48%) have posed a challenge for them to protect.

Increasing future investment in cybersecurity is imperative in the new normal

Shoring up cybersecurity defences is and will continue to be a growing priority for healthcare and pharmaceutical firms especially with the growth in usage of telehealth services. In Singapore, telehealth platform MyDoc saw its number of virtual visits rise by more than 160% from the beginning of 2020 to the end of March. We believe that like remote and hybrid working, telehealth will also continue to be widely embraced.

Of those surveyed, 88% of organizations in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals sectors said that cybersecurity is now extremely important or more important than before the pandemic. Sixty-seven percent of respondents also plan to increase their future investment in cybersecurity. With a hybrid working environment likely here to stay for the foreseeable future, investing in cybersecurity and data protection is foundational to the new normal.

Given the complexity of the healthcare ecosystem and the high sensitivity and value of its data, healthcare organizations need to invest in an integrated, unified, end-to-end security posture to help address patient privacy requirements, improve threat detection, and reduce complexity. With the rise in telehealth usage, healthcare providers also need to ensure that their customer-facing platforms are secure and can protect patient privacy. This investment presents an opportunity for the sector to enhance efficiency and cost effectiveness by leveraging technology in a secure and seamless way, and will play a critical role in our global recovery.

Learn about how Cisco enabled rapid deployment of telemedicine and collaboration for healthcare workers and patients for the University of Maryland Medical System.

Read the Future of Secure Remote Work Report here.