As Americans get older (the share of population aged 65 and over is expected to increase from 17 percent today to 23 percent in 2060) and develop more acute care needs (80 percent of the Americans over 65 have at least one chronic condition), older adults and their families will increasingly rely on aged care to meet their long-term care needs.
As with other segments of healthcare, healthcare professionals, clinicians and staff rely on technology to support patient care. However, independent and assisted living organizations face an additional challenge when it comes to network and device security: Residents, family members and guests can use a wide variety of consumer devices and applications — from virtual assistants and wearables to video conferencing systems — to maintain quality of life.
Managing hardware for both personal and professional use, as well as the networks devices connect to, can be a challenge for aged care organizations with limited IT budgets. Fortunately, a mix of technology solutions and security best practices can help facilities keep networks and devices safe.
Common Security Challenges in Aged Care
Given the unique and practical nature of senior care, these organizations face different network and device security challenges than more traditional healthcare facilities.
IT teams manage a wide variety of consumer and professional devices with their own security settings. Devices also vary greatly in age: a resident in a room can wear the latest smartwatch and watch a smart TV, while his neighbor can be controlled by a device running Windows XP. Keeping an inventory of devices is hard enough; set policies for who can use what is even more difficult.
Turnover is another challenge. The turnover among full-time elderly care workers is 29 percent, almost three times the turnover of the average hospital. This requires IT teams to closely monitor when employees leave the organization and have their access revoked; the longer logins remain active after an employee has left, the greater the security risk.
Facilities must also take into account outsiders who have access to the network. Guests are common in aged care; they visit residents, organize activities or provide services ranging from cooking and cleaning to legal and financial planning. Giving these guests access to the same network that sends and receives protected health information poses a significant risk, but so does providing an unsecured guest network.
How technology and training improve network and device security
Fortunately, there are several options to helping aged care organizations manage devices and strengthen network security†
Identity management: Organizations have various options here. Multi-factor authentication will restrict access to critical applications and devices. Password management tools help prevent password sharing and provide a alternative to easy to remember passwords (or passwords written on sticky notes). Board policies can also be set to cut off access to all company systems once an employee’s last shift has ended.
Antivirus software and patches: Today older adults are more tech-savvy than ever before† Most have a smartphone, tablet or smart TV, and a significant number have wearables and virtual assistants. These devices can improve quality of life, but without the right security, they provide an easy gateway for attackers. Asking residents to install antivirus software and security patch updates on their personal devices – just as an IT team would require employees to do – can reduce this risk.
Network segmentation: Dividing the organization’s network into subnetworks restricts access. This separates all guest traffic from the use of the staff network. Additional segmentation may limit which employees have access to proprietary personal and financial information.
Intrusion detection and network monitoring: Continuous monitoring of network traffic helps senior care organizations identify attempts by unrecognized devices or IP addresses to access the network and block that traffic. This is valuable for adding a layer of protection that requires no action on the part of technology users (be they employees, residents, or guests).
Technical Concierge Services: As senior care residents use personal technology, staff may find themselves answering more and more technical questions, from installing smartphones to fixing Wi-Fi, starting a Zoom call or help with security updates. If this is the case, organizations can benefit from: hire a tech janitor to help seniors with their technology — not just as a customer service benefit, but also to standardize the way residents and guests approach device security.
Training and education: Cybersecurity training is a must in today’s workplace. Senior care is no exception, especially for employees who may have limited experience using technology in their day-to-day tasks. Educational efforts aimed at residents and guests can also bear fruit. Unfortunately, older adults are prime targets for online scamswith annual losses due to phishing, malware and fishing nearly $1 billion. Basic Memories not clicking on links, opening attachments, or answering calls from unknown phone numbers can help protect older adults and protect the organization from outside threats.