One of the most appealing aspects of electronic health records (EHR) is that patients, physicians, nurses and other healthcare system participants can access patient records at any time from any device. However, this wireless component means that IT managers will have to rely on the management and integrated security capabilities of a unified network access architecture to ensure that this flexible access is secure and bandwidth efficient.
For instance, many hospitals today are becoming friendlier to patients and visitors by offering guest access to the Internet. Eventually, the patient will use that same network to check on the results of a recent lab test and other critical information.
Protecting patient privacy
IT managers are going to have to ensure that only authorized users can access these charts and that users’ policies apply whether connected via a wired connection or wirelessly. Therefore, they will need centralized management tools that can identify the request and match it to enterprise-wide role-based policies.
In addition, they’ll have to make sure that the data is not being accessed via a rogue access point that could jeopardize patient privacy. A unified network access approach that integrates sophisticated wired switching and wireless architecture that can handle voice, video and data can monitor the environment and alert IT to the emergence of unauthorized access points. IT will then be able to locate and shut down those rogue devices.
As hospitals, physician’s offices and other healthcare environments expand their wireless networks, IT will need a unified network access platform with unified resource management software that can seamlessly manage both the wired and wireless switches, routers and other enterprise infrastructure. That way, they can apply patches, software updates and policies with ease to all devices in the network from a single console instead of having to update several unconnected systems. In many cases they can actually integrate physical WLAN controller modules into switches in order to eliminate unnecessary appliances that consume power and take up valuable physical space.
They’ll also be able to set granular policies that enable them to allow a consulting doctor to access a patient’s record within the hospital’s wireless network, but not his office’s network. This level of detail is important for HIPAA and other privacy mandates.
Protection against internal and external threats
Centralized management and a secure network fabric that protects from external AND internal threats will also help to ensure that wireless devices accessing the network are not carrying root kits, viruses or other malware that users may pick-up with outside the hospital firewall. IT can use network access control to scan all devices for appropriate anti-virus software and other security tools before they interact with patient data.
In addition to security, IT can also use integrated network monitoring modules that feed important data and alerts back to the centralized management platform to monitor and manage the amount of traffic in the wireless environment. An access point might work fine with a dozen people logging on to it, but if a whole hospital floor is trying to work within the EHR system via wireless devices, it could create a serious bottleneck. With the centralized management platform, IT would be alerted as access points hit their threshold so they could add more or set user and device priorities to control traffic.
Finally, wireless can pose challenges when it comes to generating reports on compliance. However, if the management tools can integrate data from the wireless access points and wireless switches with the wired network data, then IT can offer auditors comprehensive reports.
As you see, for EHR to be securely and efficiently extended to wireless networks, IT must deploy intelligent and centralized management tools as well as infrastructure that can handle both wired and wireless voice, video and data. It’s what’s needed for healthcare organizations to move ahead in today’s Instant-On world.
More blogs on the EHR topic
Click here to see previous blogs about EHRs in the Data Center and the Campus LAN.