Providers leaned on technology to get through COVID-19, but now it’s time to fine-tune efforts to protect residents and the bottom line

Information technology has risen to the occasion over the past two years to help skilled nursing providers grapple with COVID-19, but IT executives must now ponder other priorities that may have been overlooked during the pandemic.

COVID laid bare systematic vulnerabilities throughout the healthcare IT infrastructure. The statistics bode poorly for many small businesses like nursing homes. More than half of affected businesses have reported an uptick in cyberattacks — more than 40% of them COVID-related — according to ID Agent, a security firm.

“Cybercrime continues to thrive, but the distraction of COVID leaves senior care organizations vulnerable,” said Jamie Sprague, marketing director for Prime Care Technologies. “Defenses are down, and so are their budgets.”

Ingrid Svensson, chief product officer for MatrixCare, said when new technologies were rapidly adopted at the outset of the pandemic, “many were implemented with less-than-ideal security standards.”

Deric Blattenberger, CenTrak’s general manager of Senior Care, said many of the routine tasks that “have fallen off the radar” include system security risks and IT solution updates.

To Travis Palmquist, interim chief marketing officer and senior vice president of industry marketing at PointClickCare, the most alarming fallout of all is the “black hole” of data sharing, a much relied-upon thing for quality improvements.

To improve safety in the coming year, Blattenberger advises moving to enterprise-grade “closed” IT systems that ensure continuity and don’t rely on existing (and possibly vulnerable) infrastructures. Automatic updates and patches also are a must, he added.

Svensson sees “a big opportunity for SNFs to leverage EHR-embedded predictive analytics to focus on preventative care and further prioritize patient safety in the face of ongoing workforce shortages.”

Claire Stephens, senior vice president of American HealthTech, sees maximizing IT to improve workflows as an essential path out of the current staffing crisis. With automated revenue cycle management, for example, providers do more with less, she said.