Cybersecurity in Hospitals: A Systematic, Organizational Perspective

Cybersecurity incidents are a growing threat to the health care industry in general and hospitals in particular. The health care industry has lagged behind other industries in protecting its main stakeholder (ie, patients), and now hospitals must invest considerable capital and effort in protecting their systems. However, this is easier said than done because hospitals are extraordinarily technology-saturated, complex organizations with high end point complexity, internal politics, and regulatory pressures.

Objective The purpose of this study was to develop a systematic and organizational perspective for studying (1) the dynamics of cybersecurity capability development at hospitals and (2) how these internal organizational dynamics interact to form a system of hospital cybersecurity in the United States.

Methods We conducted interviews with hospital chief information officers, chief information security officers, and health care cybersecurity experts; analyzed the interview data; and developed a system dynamics model that unravels the mechanisms by which hospitals build cybersecurity capabilities. We then use simulation analysis to examine how changes to variables within the model affect the likelihood of cyberattacks across both individual hospitals and a system of hospitals.

Results We discuss several key mechanisms that hospitals use to reduce the likelihood of cybercriminal activity. The variable that most influences the risk of cyberattack in a hospital is end point complexity, followed by internal stakeholder alignment. Although resource availability is important in fueling efforts to close cybersecurity capability gaps, low levels of resources could be compensated for by setting a high target level of cybersecurity.