In 2013, when I was working for BT, I had written an article for a medical journal about the fascinating developments transforming healthcare — from stem cell breakthroughs to tapping artificial intelligence for diagnosis and therapeutic treatments.
I also talked about the Next-Generation National Broadband Network in Singapore (Next Gen NBN), the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) and the need to implement a secure database infrastructure with the highest level of encryption and authentication to deal with any possible breaches in patient confidentiality and data protection.
Now, with the SingHealth data breach, I have not been seeing any talk about the NGNBN and its vulnerabilities, if any, and their relevance to the compromise of 1.5 million records. After all, the NGNBN was designed to provide ultra-high-speed broadband access to all physical addresses, including hospitals.
Perhaps that is within the ambit of the privacy watchdog set up to investigate the cyberbreach.
For the record, though, Singapore had chosen Huawei’s end-to-end solution to power the NGNBN. Huawei, a company founded by a Chinese Army officer, has triggered fears of cyber espionage globally and is facing intense scrutiny in most countries it operates in.
Amid the boom in medical tourism in APAC, with Singapore also among popular healthcare destinations despite the high cost of treatment, the implications of the breach can be far-reaching. It is not just patients who have a need to curb mounting medical expenses, hospitals too are faced with the challenge of dealing with escalating costs.
Digitisation, Best Bet
Digitisation of their environment is thus their best bet to improve operational efficiency as well as staff productivity and thereby realise patient satisfaction.
The positive side of the SingHealth breach is that while the records of 1.5 million people were hacked they were not amended or tampered with (changing the health profile of patients, for instance) which will have had disastrous consequences.
Hospitals must continue to harness ICT for health while ensuring robust security with help from the Government.
G Joslin Vethakumar