What Does the End of Windows XP Mean for the Health Care Sector?

Microsoft recently pulled the plug on Windows XP. What does this mean for hospitals, and how could it benefit cloud-based companies like Athenahealth and security companies like Symantec?

Apr 12, 2014 at 10:00AM

On April 8, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) discontinued software and security updates for Windows XP, its 12-year-old operating system installed on 28% of the world's computers. That's bad news for the health-care industry, which has experienced a surge in data breaches and hacks over the past few years.

Market research firm Gartner recently noted that a third of businesses (which includes the health care industry) have XP installed on more than 10% of their systems. Although support for Windows XP has ended, Windows XP Embedded, a variant installed on certain medical devices, will be supported until 2017.


Twenty-eight percent of the world's computers still use Windows XP. Source: Flickr.

Aging tech, data breaches, and hacks
The end of XP comes at tough time when many hospitals are struggling to upgrade their aging technologies. U.S. hospitals and practices are trying to meet the requirements of the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, which grants them government subsidies for achieving "meaningful use" benchmarks such as EHR (electronic health record) adoption and the guaranteed security of patient records. Practices also must remain compliant with the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) Act of 1996, which ensures that hospitals are taking all of the necessary measures to protect patient data.

Unfortunately, recent health-care IT issues indicate that the industry is far from meeting those standards. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude Medical were all hit by hackers in the first half of 2013. That report raised serious concerns about the safety of newer medical devices such as Wi-Fi pacemakers. In February, St. Joseph Health System reported that a data breach exposed over 405,000 patient records. Those alarming events were only the tip of the iceberg -- the number of personal health record breaches climbed 138% year over year in 2013, according to IT security audit firm Redspin.

Therefore, the loss of support for administrative systems running on XP could leave practices exposed to even more hacks and data breaches. According to a recent Meritalk survey, 82% of health-care IT executives admitted that their infrastructure was "not fully prepared for a disaster recovery incident."

Upgrades, cloud-based services, and security
In response to these problems and the end of Windows XP, I expect most hospitals and practices to simply upgrade their systems to Windows 7 or 8.1. The Windows interface is familiar and most existing software remains compatible. Microsoft's efforts to beef up its health care portfolio with HealthVault, Windows 8.1-optimized EHR apps, and Bing Health are all lucrative reasons to stick with Microsoft. A mass upgrade across the health care industry would also be great news for Microsoft, which reported a 3% decline in Windows OEM revenue last quarter.

Hospitals and practices could also start relying more on cloud-based services like Athenahealth (NASDAQ:ATHN). Athenahealth's three core services -- physician practice and billing management (athenaCollector), EHR services (athenaClinicals), and a patient communication web portal (athenaCommunicator) -- transfer clinical administrative tasks onto a safer, more cohesive cloud-based ecosystem. Athenahealth's subscription-based services can be accessed from desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.


Athenahealth's PracticeVitals app for the iPhone. Source: iTunes.

It's a trend that's catching on quickly -- Aaron Levie, CEO of popular cloud-based storage service Box, recently noted that the health-care sector's usage of its service surged 300% last year. Athenahealth's results in fiscal 2013 also reflected this move toward the cloud -- its revenue soared 41% while its non-GAAP adjusted net income climbed 19%.

Major antivirus companies have also introduced security solutions targeting the health-care sector. Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC), the maker of Norton Antivirus, offers comprehensive security solutions for HIPAA compliance, patient privacy protection, and better storage management for data loss prevention. Symantec has also published detailed articles online explaining the end of XP and its effect on HIPAA compliance in hospitals. The end of XP and increased security threats in health care could be a boost to Symantec, which has been slumping after quarters of declining revenues and the firing of its CEO.

The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, hospitals should be serious about upgrading their aging tech, but their efforts have been painfully slow. It's likely that many hospitals in the U.S. and across the world have already missed that deadline.

Sticking with XP doesn't immediately make U.S. hospitals non-compliant with HIPAA, but it's a pretty huge risk to take considering the startling surge in hacks and data breaches that have recently hit the health care sector.

Invest in the next wave of health care innovation
The Economist compares this disruptive invention to the steam engine and the printing press. Business Insider says it's "the next trillion-dollar industry." And the technology  behind is poised to set off one of the most remarkable health-care revolutions in decades. The Motley Fool's exclusive research presentation dives into this technology's true potential and its ability to make life-changing medical solutions never thought possible.  To learn how you can invest in this unbelievable new technology, click here now to see our free report.


Leo Sun has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Athenahealth and owns shares of Medtronic and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information