Healthcare information technology challenges are unique. Every aspect of healthcare delivery and analysis now relies increasingly on technology – both inside and outside the physician’s office. Wearable devices, Electronic Health Records (EHR), office network connectivity, and more mean there is a continuum of healthcare technology that stretches from the patient’s personal life to the primary care practice and beyond.
Increased technology investment and higher quality are needed at all levels:
- Family practices
- Medical specialists
- Emergency centers
- Large healthcare systems
Making sound, robust investments can help healthcare providers head off the inevitable pitfalls of these complex technology transitions. This helps cut cost and improve regulatory compliance while providing for the true end goal of all healthcare providers: Better patient outcomes.
Top IT Challenges Facing Healthcare
Ensure Security Standards Meet HIPAA Requirements
Exchanging healthcare data and patient records electronically increases efficiency and allows for greater collaboration between medical experts. However, it also raises the stakes for HIPAA compliance – and the possible consequences of noncompliance.
Security is central to HIPAA compliance, and it takes many forms:
- Network security
- Device security
- Office security
- Password security
Many healthcare leaders launch a HIPAA compliance regime with a focus on Electronic Health Records. However, this is only one piece of the overall compliance puzzle. To prevent oversights and, yes, attacks that can compromise compliance standards, robust best practices must be in place. An end-to-end security approach will safeguard sensitive data best.
A complete assessment should be performed to spotlight issues and capability gaps related to security risks. Policies must be clear, comprehensive, and communicated well to all stakeholders. A “map” of all assets, including IT resources and connected medical devices, must be kept up to date and accessible to all stakeholders who architect security policies.
Repeatable processes that can help mitigate risks include:
- Regular assessment of security programs and policies
- Encrypted communication, particularly wireless
- Maintaining a firewall, web security, and personnel training
- Enforcing one login per employee and avoidance of credential sharing
- Signed BAAs on file for vendors
- A clear, effective plan for data breach mitigation
- Reviews of cyber liability insurance needs and coverages
Organizations storing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and EHR must use data encryption to secure information both in transit and at rest. Knowing what data you have, where it’s stored, and understanding how you’re protecting it is crucial. This includes encryption of data used in backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity scenarios. Ensuring good encryption also means enforcing policies on removable storage devices like USB sticks and external hard drives.
Data Storage Capacity
Healthcare institutions often retain key patient records and other documents for many years. Data storage capacity must continue to scale with the organization’s maturity. The more patients an organization serves, the more storage it will need over time.
Key decision-makers must look ahead and anticipate future direction of technology of technology to make the best infrastructure choices that are cost-effective in the long-run.
Can your data be in the cloud? Before you decide, a compliance check is crucial.
HIPAA standards and client agreements may prohibit data from moving to certain cloud providers, particularly consumer-grade cloud services that are commonly used by individuals.
Wireless networking enhances the value of your equipment, benefiting both patients and staff.
For healthcare staff, wireless improves efficiency of mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and iPads. It also limits manual data entry that needs to be done after each appointment by syncing records as the nurse or doctor enters data. However, this wireless capability requires sufficient bandwidth for speedy operation of multiple devices.
Patients and visitors also expect wireless access while in your office. How can providers serve them while maintaining enough bandwidth and keeping systems safe?
Follow best practices for setting up a wireless network in your practice:
- Set up a guest network with a clear demarcation between public and private networks
- Create a sign-in page for guests to log in and review rules for connecting to the network
- Consider restrictions on activities like streaming, to help allocate sufficient bandwidth for everybody
Expanding guest access to the network can put greater demands on technical resources. This being the case, it’s important to ensure critical services are always prioritized in the calculation of available bandwidth. This is another area to review for total network optimization.
As the two halves of the network mature, it’s even more crucial to ensure security is in place on both sides. Seemingly minor – even accidental – breaches caused by members of the public can lead to heavy fines. Confidential network zones should be encrypted to limit this possibility. Filtering tools like Web Security can add additional layers of security.
Increasing IT Project Costs
Compliance is the fastest-growing category of costs in many regulation-driven industries, including healthcare. It’s no surprise that IT, being so closely bound up in regulatory matters, would see project costs rise significantly over time. This raises lifetime cost of ownership for major IT equipment and contributes to overhead that can stifle innovation.
Security, data storage, wireless, and more are becoming crucial – at a premium price.
The best way to mitigate these costs? Work with an IT provider that offers deep insight into the healthcare industry’s unique challenges. Specifically, you should always look for a provider who has successfully served organizations like your own in the past.
That helps ensure a customized IT strategy that’s both efficient and cost-effective.
Hiring an Experienced Managed Services Provider is the Key to Healthcare IT
Choosing an MSP with healthcare experience is the vital first step to ongoing success.
- Keeping the plan on track requires clear communication:
- Ask about the different ways to manage IT costs, including alternative options
- Ask about the future of healthcare IT, including current trends to look out for
- Meet once monthly to stay updated on key concerns and ideas for improvement
Healthcare IT is becoming more complex and challenging. With the right solutions, however, the latest wave of connected health technology will produce clear benefits for patients and care providers. The key to results? Don’t settle for ad-hoc responses to technological change. Instead of piecing together a best guess approach with an internal team, use a verified expert.