For the majority of healthcare organizations, information technology has completely transformed the delivery, quality, and security of patient care. Health information technology, or health IT, has grown into an entire industry involving the design, use, and maintenance of information systems specifically for the healthcare industry that are intended to improve medical care, with electronic health record (EHR) and electronic medical record (EMR) management systems as central components. Since EMRs contain individual’s medical and treatment history and EHRs are an individual’s official digital health record, it’s easy to understand how health IT has evolved over the years in order to safeguard this valuable information.
The evolution of EHR/EMR systems
When the HIPAA act was introduced in 1996, the landscape of EHR/EMR management shifted. Whereas EHR/EMR systems offered healthcare organizations a way to lower costs, increase efficiency, reduce error and improve patient satisfaction, HIPAA forced EHR/EMR system vendors, as well as healthcare providers and their business associates to conform to mandated security regulations. These regulations required new levels of security to protect patient health information, and as a result, EHR system security was upgraded to include the standardization of safeguards like role-based access control, automatic data backups, audit trails, automatic log-offs, and data encryption. To add to this, the HITECH act, introduced in 2009, outlines “meaningful use” of government-approved EHR/EMR systems in the US, and even included financial incentives for physicians and hospitals who follow its guidelines. Needless to say, since HITECH was implemented, there’s been a dramatic increase in the implementation of EHR/EMR solutions in healthcare organizations.
Health IT expenditures are growing
While EHR/EMR solutions provide accessibility, improved workflow, and interoperability between healthcare institutions for managing patient records, they only represent a fraction of the IT expenditures in the healthcare industry. 72% of respondents in a 2015 survey of healthcare professionals said that healthcare IT is their organizations biggest expenditure: a number that’s expected to increase globally with upcoming data regulations like GDPR.
Healthcare IT doesn’t only encompass EHR/EMR systems, but also the networks that support them, as well as the servers, workstations, and mobile devices that healthcare staff access them from. When it comes to data management, today’s healthcare IT professionals know that there are a lot of options to invest in when attempting to simplify and centralize their IT infrastructure. There are many health IT hardware and software tools on the market that help healthcare providers reach improved levels of patient care, staff workflow and regulation compliance. Let’s take a look at a few of the best pathways to an improved healthcare IT infrastructure.
1. Investigate alternative data storage options
In order to meet growing data storage needs and compliance regulations, many healthcare organizations are building their IT datacenters to be more flexible and scalable. Traditionally, hospital IT administrators have preferred on-premise, physical data storage options because of the control it gives them. But with physical on-site storage comes the work of maintenance, deployment of expansion storage, troubleshooting, and more. While not every healthcare organization will benefit from the same type of data storage, many are more likely these days to implement cloud storage into their IT infrastructure.
Cloud data storage options are flexible, scalable, and come at a lower cost than on-premise deployments. Today’s healthcare providers can choose between public or private hosting facilities, many of which offer appealing back up and disaster recovery plans. Other advantages of storing data on the cloud is freed-up internal storage and resources, improved interoperability, and better integration with applications. If you’re considering migrating some of your healthcare data storage over to the cloud, be sure to discuss the compliance and security measures that potential vendors have in place to ensure you make the best choice.
2. Ditch traditional fax
As surprising as it may seem, decades-old fax machines are still widely used in today’s hospitals and physician’s offices. Data security is of utmost importance in today’s healthcare environments, but a large number of providers don’t have the time or resources to explore alternative options.
Fax machines not only break away from the digital and paperless landscape that compliance regulations have mostly succeeded to build, but the technology is also plain old unreliable:
- It leaves too much room for human error: sending a fax to a wrong number is a common error as evidenced by a large number or reported data breaches
- Paper, ink, and maintenance costs add up
- Regulations such as the HIPAA privacy rule strongly suggest that the minimum amount of information necessary be contained in fax transmissions
Other options, such as t.38 and cloud fax solutions have emerged as popular alternatives for safely transmitting patient records and other sensitive data. But what is t.38 faxing? It’s a technology that allows you to send faxes over your existing computer network. Cloud faxing essentially allows your fax transmissions to take place over a remote server. These solutions are highly affordable and leverage existing internet connections, they eliminate lost or misused faxes that might be left lying around, and they scale easily. What’s more is that many of today’s fax solution options integrate seamlessly with existing EHR/EMR systems, allowing staff to send and receive mission-critical data right from the platforms they’re most comfortable with.
3. Secure file exchange: simple solutions for data transmission
Email is another commonly used tool for transmitting patient data to patients themselves and within the healthcare network. Not all healthcare institutions can afford to implement the security measures needed to make their email servers secure enough to remain compliant and keep incidents of data breach at bay. Another issue within certain healthcare departments is that email doesn’t permit them to attach files over a certain size, forcing them to find other options for sending and receiving bulky patient records and medical images. The radiation Oncology departments at Inova Health System in VA, for example, were burning large files onto CDs and using mail services in order to get patient data to other hospitals and medical facilities in their network before transitioning to XM SendSecure.
SendSecure is an example of a collaborative secure file exchange software that takes minimal time and effort to deploy. It uses double encryption, which keeps files encrypted during both the upload and download processes unlike most email servers which only encrypt files while in transit. Users can send an unlimited number of files up to 5TB/ea., thus eliminating any concerns of getting large files where they need to get in a hurry. Similar to today’s FoIP or cloud fax solutions, SendSecure also integrates with day-to-day applications, such as Outlook, and can even be used from any internet browser.
Looking for ways to boost your health IT infrastructure and ensure your data is safe in transit and at rest? Speak with an expert today about FoIP and secure file exchange solutions that could work for you!