The importance of software updates in healthcare

The importance of software updates in healthcare

Stethoscope on laptop keyboard

Software updates can be annoying. They appear out of nowhere at inconvenient times and they seem to take twice as long as they claim. And if you’re stuck with legacy systems, it is not as simple as a click of a button. But we suspect a team of people at Public Health England will have learnt how using outdated software applications can have serious implications in healthcare. 

As reported on Pulse+IT, “the use of an old Excel file format meant almost 16,000 positive [COVID-19] cases had been left off a list and up to 50,000 close contacts might have been missed.” Instead of using the current .xlsx file format, which can hold over a million rows of information, Public Health England used the old .xls file format, which can only hold 65,000 rows of information. As a result, thousands of cases simply disappeared from the list before the error was discovered. 

Aside from the embarrassment of this situation, you can see how a simple oversight can very quickly become very serious when it comes to healthcare. 

CERT NZ says, “Software updates aren’t just about adding new features or fixing bugs though, they’re also about fixing weaknesses, or vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities are parts of the app or software that can be used for purposes other than those intended. It’s through these vulnerabilities that attackers can gain access to your device and your information.” 

In 2017, the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) fell victim to the WannaCry ransomware cyber-attack which paralysed parts of their health service. The UK’s National Audit Office investigation into the attack states, “All NHS organisations infected by WannaCry had unpatched or unsupported Windows operating systems so were susceptible to the ransomware.” Many cyber incidents like this could have been avoided if software was kept up to date. 

The convergence of healthcare and technology has created many benefits for both health providers and patients, and the number of devices and software apps available only seem to be growing. But health professionals have an obligation to ensure that patients’ private information is protected, and this means securing any internet-connected device that you use. 

It’s a no-brainer really – don’t ignore software updates and install them as soon as possible. Even better, change the settings on your device for the updates to take place automatically whenever a new version is available. That way, you don’t have to think about it. 

Read related guide: 4 tips for securing internet-connected devices in healthcare.