Digital Identity: Empowering Clinicians with Mobility and Security

By Dr. Sean Kelly

The healthcare system continues to buckle under continued strain post-pandemic: the growing demand for medical care, nationwide labor shortages, and ever-evolving cybersecurity threats are among healthcare workers’ daily challenges.

Clinical staff are stretched thin. The growing nursing shortage has only exacerbated this existing burnout. At the same time, the healthcare industry has begun to address its unique vulnerability to cyberattacks by implementing stronger—yet more convoluted—security and authentication standards. Bolstering cybersecurity standards is a crucial way to safeguard critical systems and protected health information (PHI). But without the right strategy or tools, these protocols can unintentionally burden clinical staff as they provide patient care, contributing to burnout.

In a recent survey from AMN Healthcare, about 94% of nurses reported moderate to severe staff shortages, with over 60% saying they don’t have enough time to spend with patients. Patient care is always the highest priority for nurses, above cybersecurity or even their own well-being. Nurses will do anything to care for their patients as effectively as possible, even if that means circumventing security processes with risky workarounds that leave hospital networks vulnerable, or even staying late after long shifts to log all patient notes from the day into the electronic health record (EHR) at once. In today’s landscape, healthcare organizations must optimize their quality and efficiency of care delivery while securing and protecting hospital networks and patient information. For the healthcare system to meet the ever-growing need for medical care, it must develop a strategy that maximizes the productivity and well-being of its staff and the cybersecurity of its networks.

Maximizing increased IT budgets requires careful planning

In the past few years, healthcare data breaches have become more common and catastrophic than ever. The healthcare industry remains one of the most targeted industries for cybercriminals—and the scale of these attacks only continues to grow. Thankfully, the healthcare sector has taken note of the dangers, leading to a stronger commitment to cybersecurity and digital transformation investments this year. TechTarget’s 2023 IT Priorities Study found that 41% of healthcare organizations plan to increase their cybersecurity budgets and more than 60% of respondents identified cybersecurity as a technology initiative that has become “significantly more important” to their organization’s future over the past two years.

The challenge is determining which tools and technologies will increase security and productivity. Recognizing the unique privacy, efficiency, and compliance demands of the healthcare industry, hospitals need solutions tailored to meet these unique needs. To move forward with confidence, security and resilience, healthcare organizations need a holistic digital identity strategy.

Unlocking mobility and security with digital identity

As healthcare organizations embrace digital transformation, tools that unlock clinician mobility without sacrificing productivity will be critical. A McKinsey report found that up to 20% of a 12-hour nursing shift is spent on activities that could be optimized with modern technology. Adopting digital identity solutions can allow healthcare organizations to modernize existing technology and clinical processes.

By securing the user’s digital identity and credentials as they access systems and applications, clinicians can access information more easily while on-the-go caring for patients, whether on a desktop computer or device. Healthcare organizations are adopting mobile devices to improve efficiency, but without integrating shared mobile devices into the organization’s digital identity strategy, users will continue to struggle when accessing critical information.

When correctly implemented, shared mobile devices can streamline time-intensive administrative work, increase cybersecurity and patient privacy, ease clinician workloads, and improve bedside care. Mobile devices should help clinical staff gain immediate access to the critical information they need to treat their patients. Instead of spending long hours on documentation, communication, and administration work, clinical staff can quickly and securely update digital records on mobile devices, which are then shared automatically across the network. Upon reaching the patient’s bedside, clinical staff can focus on providing superb care while updating patient information in real-time, instead of trying to log into accounts or forage for records.

The importance of integrating shared mobile devices strategically and securely cannot be overstated. Mobile devices will only be effective if they are properly enabled, tracked, and managed—and the linchpin to that is a robust digital identity framework. For mobile devices to be an effective cybersecurity and productivity tool, IT leaders must be able to seamlessly manage access and maintain clear visibility over the entire network. Haphazard implementation of shared mobile devices is a waste of budget and time; without a comprehensive digital identity strategy, these shared devices can lead to greater security risks and will have little to no impact on clinician productivity.

The future of digital identity in healthcare

Digital identity is the key to unlocking mobility and security in healthcare. A holistic digital identity strategy will help healthcare organizations approach digital transformation to effectively address the issues facing the healthcare industry. Undoubtedly, the challenges of the post-pandemic world will continue to impact the healthcare sector. The most proactive and financially resourceful move healthcare leaders can make now is to build the strongest foundation possible for productive, secure, and sustainable clinical workflows. By investing in cybersecurity solutions with cross-functional benefits, healthcare organizations can maximize their IT budgets and empower their staff to provide patients with the best care.

Dr. Sean Kelly is Chief Medical Officer and SVP of Customer Strategy for Imprivata, the digital identity company for life- and mission-critical industries.