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Mobile VPN Adoption Continues in Health IT Infrastructure

Healthcare Organizations continue to embrace VPN technology as medical professionals and patients express desire to access secure health data remotely.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

The adoption of mobile virtual private networks as part of health IT infrastructure is expected to grow in the coming years in order to support remote access to secure files and safeguard against continued threats from hackers, according to a recent study.

VPN growth in healthcare

The P&S Market Research study predicted the mobile virtual private network (VPN) market to grow at a CAGR of 21.1% between 2016 and 2022. The healthcare industry was among the top industries polled along with telecommunication and government.

A VPN is the extension of a private network accessible through the public internet. Connection data is tagged with a header, using the internet to locate the private network. VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel connecting the VPN client and the intranet or VPN server. The tunnel securely wraps the connection separating it from the public internet.

According to Gartner, “The VPN marketplace is mature and fragmented, because the capabilities are embedded in other products, such as routers, firewalls, portals, application suites, unified threat management (UTM) appliances and platform OSs. Mainstream VPN vendors offer it as part of a family of networking products and services, which can also include access management and single sign-on (SSO).”

VPNs serve the healthcare industry by giving medical professionals secure remote access to electronic health data. Similarly, patients can gain secure remote access to patient portals and other outward facing medical applications. The survey acknowledges that employees are no longer limited to Windows devices, but are using Android, Blackberry,and iOS devices to connect with business networks, which has increased demand for mobile VPN products and services.

The study cites the “proliferation of the internet” as the primary motivation for organizations to embrace VPN solutions and incorporate them into their IT infrastructure.

“It has become easy for the hackers to conduct fraud and theft,” said P&S analysts. “Consumers are increasingly looking for products to secure transactions carried out on the internet from outside the organization. The explosion of mobile and wireless devices within organizations is also driving the growth of the global mobile virtual private network products market.”

Industry group, American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), is one organization in healthcare supporting the use of VPNs, but with caution.

“VPNs can employ strong authentication and encryption mechanisms between the APs and the network,” AHIMA stated. “While VPNs can be a secure solution for WLANs, one-way authentication VPNs are still vulnerable to exploitation,” states AHIMA guidance from 2013.

AHIMA suggests mutual authentication wireless VPNs and educating the workforce on VPN technology as well as internet protocol security (IPSec) and secure sockets layer (SSL) when connecting to a public WLAN to conduct business, which becomes especially important as the VPN market continues to grow in the healthcare industry.

P&S Market Research cites the same threats and credits them with the growth of the global mobile VPN network. North America supported the largest share in the global VPN market in 2015 due to the increased demand for remote working capabilities in North American enterprises.  

Organizations are beginning to understand the threat of shadow IT, for mobile devices especially, and continue to provide advanced and secure ways for employees to access sensitive data. Shadow IT threatens IT infrastructure when users access the network with an unauthorized personal device, not realizing the risk to electronic health data.

P&S analysts recognize the need for employees to access internet through enhanced wireless technologies.

“Employees are using more advanced applications,” says survey analysts. “As more applications are available for wireless or mobile devices, enterprises use them to increase efficiency and enhance productivity.”

Growth of the VPN market gives healthcare employees and patients better remote access to electronic health information. VPNs protect secure data from becoming compromised by unauthorized access, and protects data and healthcare networks from remote hackers, making VPNs essential to any organizations with remote or mobile users.

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