October 22, 2020

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Australian Digital Health Agency advises digital caution and training as telehealth sector grows

Use of technology has become more prominent than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began. With this in mind, the Australian Digital Health Agency urges people to consider the security of the devices being used each day.

People are relying on digital transactions in all spheres of life, including healthcare. The expression “Internet of Things” IoT was coined to describe this increasingly pervasive layer of smart device-to-device and device-to-network interaction.

More and more devices are gaining “smart” functionality, in which connectivity enables interactions with other devices to deliver a richer, easier to use experience for end-users. While smart devices offer enhanced functionality, they also increase potential exposure to cybersecurity risks.

The Internet of Things may have been an intangible concept a few years ago but is now an integral part of everyday life, work and business. Smart devices including watches, home monitoring devices, mobiles and tablets are widely used. For the most part, every aspect of life is, in some way, shape or form already a part of the Internet of Things.

The ease of transaction, 24×7 access and convenience IoT poses are incredible but it also greatly exposes people to an increased risk of cyberattacks. This cybersecurity risk must be taken seriously, but the good news is that in most cases a simple regular maintenance routine will greatly improve security. Australian Digital Health Agency has suggested some key tips for users of smart devices:

  • Software updates routinely include security patches, so be sure to check regularly that the software on your smart devices stays up to date.
  • If any of your devices are no longer supported by the manufacturer, consider replacing them or disconnecting them from the internet.
  • If you replace your device, ensure that you change the manufacturer’s default password and enable multi-factor authentication (if offered).

The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Tips to secure Internet of Things devices and the Australian Digital Health Agency’s Seven Steps to Securing Your Smart Health Devices have more information and guidance.

Healthcare providers can also refer to the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s guidance on Cybersecurity for medical devices, as well as their information about news and updates. The Australian Digital Health Agency has also provided advice for software developers and IoT service providers. This is laid out in the ACSC code of practice.

Australia’s 2020 Cyber Security Strategy outlines the need for improved security practises for devices to reduce the risk of cyber compromise of Australia’s online community and critical infrastructure. In response, the Department of Home Affairs has developed a Voluntary Code of Practice for the industry to lift the security of Internet of Things devices in Australia2.

This document describes 13 principles, primarily targeted at:

  • device manufacturers
  • IoT service providers
  • mobile application developers
  • retailers

The agency recognises that digital health skills and training are more important than ever with 29.6 million telehealth services delivered. A dramatic expansion in the use of telehealth has been a key element of the fight against COVID-19. Between 13 March and 9 September, 29.6 million Medicare-eligible telehealth services were delivered to 10.4 million patients, resulting in $1.52 billion paid in Medicare benefits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of these systems to ensure the delivery of quality patient care during an emergency. The government has invested in a range of areas to expand the use of digital health, including workforce training, incentives to providers, and support for telehealth, My Health Record and electronic prescribing.

As with every other sector, adoption of technology is critical for the healthcare system and the Roadmap sets out how the Australian health workforce of more than 767,000 registered healthcare providers (as of March 2020) can be transformed over the next decade.

A national digital health skills and training plan was released to empower the Australian health workers’ use technology and further drive the digital transformation of health services to meet community demand.

The development of the National Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap acknowledges people are the health sector’s most valuable asset and that we need to shape education and training to meet their needs and to support the provision of the best care possible to patients.

As part of the COVID-19 National Health Plan, the Australian Government also fast-tracked the start of electronic prescribing. This gives prescribers and patients the option to use an electronic prescription, sent by text message or email, as a legal alternative to a paper prescription.

The e-prescription contains an electronic token and other instructions which can be shown to or forwarded to the dispensing pharmacist, who scans the token to reveal the prescribed medicine.