The use of technology in healthcare is on the rise. This technology has many benefits, but it also carries risks, such as electronic medical records being exposed. In 2018, over 13 million records were breached, more than double the number in 2017.
This is only one of several technology challenges faced in healthcare. This guide covers what you need to know about medial office IT support.
DATA COLLECTION AND STORAGE
One of the biggest changes in the world of medicine is the collection and storage of patient information. Paper is on the way out, and electronic records are in. There are many benefits to electronic records, including the ability to centralize records for an entire practice. These records can also be backed up, so if the medical office were to suffer damage, those records could still be accessed. Paper records, on the other hand, can be damaged or destroyed in a fire or flood.
Even the types and uses of electronic information have evolved. Electronic medical records (EMRs) were initially designed to replace the paper charts used in doctor’s offices, but the information was never intended to go outside that office.
Now electronic health records (EHRs) are more popular because they are meant to be used in any office the patient visits. Most significantly, this information is not only for health professionals anymore. The patients now have access to it as well. It allows for the centralization of all their medical information in a way that gives doctors the ability to know exactly what medications you are taking, past diagnoses, and any treatment plans that were put into place. This system can help to reduce the amount of potential negative interactions between prescriptions and treatments.
Having this information available in electronic form is more than convenient. It can be life-saving. Doctors can respond much more quickly when they do not have to wait to receive information about the patient’s medical history and treatments. This information is also critical if a patient is unable to speak for themselves or let the medical team know their history.
To collect, store, and manage all this information, though, you will need the help of your medical office IT support technician. This process could include hosting a patient portal, allowing patients to check-in for visits at a healthcare kiosk, and providing access to the EHRs.
The challenge for IT tech support in medical offices is to stay in compliance with the privacy regulations for collecting and storing this information. For medical professionals, this challenge has only increased as hackers become more sophisticated in finding ways to access data stored on local servers or in the cloud.
Unlike some industries, healthcare has strict guidelines around privacy, starting with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Passed in 1996, the goal of HIPAA was to mandate standards of security around creating, storing, and transmitting health information.
In 2009, these regulations were updated with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. HITECH requires a “meaningful use” of technological security around health records. The act also put audits in place to ensure companies are compliant with the regulations.
The most significant privacy requirement applies to the patient’s protected health information, or PHI, also referred to as ePHI for electronic information. PHI needs to be tightly controlled so it is restricted to the patient and necessary users.
The HIPPA security rule also requires certain safeguards around the PHI, including technical safeguards. This security might include firewalls, user restriction, and encryption protocols.
Non-compliance carries severe penalties, from $50k and up to $1.5 million for repeated violations.
Another major change is that privacy regulations no longer apply only to medical offices. They also carry over to any of the office’s business associates, which could include managed IT services. Today, many businesses and medical offices are accessing the benefits of managed IT services, including reducing costs and gaining skilled IT professionals who are up to date on the latest security challenges and ways to address them.
CHANGING HEALTHCARE LAWS
In addition to privacy issues, healthcare laws continue to evolve. Therefore, to remain in compliance can require a significant investment of capital and time for a medical office, reflecting the constantly shifting political landscape.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already changed since it went into effect. Politicians and lawmakers continue to discuss all the components of the act. Many disagree about its legality and usefulness, making its future uncertain. Therefore, medical offices must make an investment, unsure if the law may end up being rewritten, thus requiring them to make further changes to their platforms. Plus, there are the never-ending cyber security threats that must be addressed as part of any shift to maintain compliance with the latest laws and regulations.
Additionally, the opioid epidemic and high drug costs are bringing an increased focus on healthcare legislation overall. Doctors are balancing the needs of their patients with the realities of continually increasing drug prices and the potential of abuse.
Whatever happens next, anyone in the medical field should expect more changes that will likely have an impact on medical offices and how they store patient information. Your medical office IT support specialist will need to be prepared to accommodate those changes as they come, and you will need to make the financial investment to keep yourself in compliance.
HIGH COST OF DOWNTIME
Software crashes are not good for any business, but they have an even higher impact in the world of healthcare. Doctors need to be able to access their patients’ records, so if software crashes, then they cannot send prescriptions, add notes, or even review the records prior to speaking with their patients. It can be a nightmare if software is not functioning properly.
If a system goes down in a medical setting, it can have a critical effect on patients, and it could even be deadly. A patient might need an important prescription, or a doctor might require access to patient records before being able to proceed with surgery.
The monetary cost is also significant. Each hour of downtime can cost $488 or more and when you consider that a typical EHR server is expected to be down for 87 hours a year, that adds up.
The costs are not only to the damaged system that needs repair. The loss in productivity is another hit, as well as the patient impact.
Any system issues will also make your patients less confident in your practice, and they might well decide to look elsewhere for care.
Data loss is also a potential problem with system crashes, which is why your support specialist needs to have a backup plan for your data.
If you do not take this step, you could lose vital information. Patient records are not always easy to reconstruct, and you may never get all the details back. You could also lose pieces of data that you need to run your business, such as financial and tax records.
Backing up your data is also required per HIPAA HITECH regulations. This backup process includes:
- Storing your data offsite
- Making sure the data is recoverable
- Taking frequent backups
- Testing the backup and recovery
As with other regulatory issues, failure to comply can mean severe penalties.
Finally, those in healthcare need the right software to store and manage patient information. Medical offices also need solutions for medical billing, managing mobile health (mHealth) devices, and maintaining system compliance.
To get the best support, make sure your IT provider is familiar with the types of software you use. You should also make sure they are available 24/7 and have a fast response, to get you up and running again as quickly as possible.
MEDICAL OFFICES HAVE SPECIFIC NEEDS
The world of healthcare is constantly changing, and that includes greater use of technology. For medical offices to keep up, they need to work with medical office IT support specialists who understand their unique concerns and can provide the support they need to stay in compliance.
Need help with your medical office IT support services? Contact us today to see how we can help make your business secure and compliant.
Sagacent Technologies offers technology management and support, including proactive/preventative maintenance, onsite and offsite data back-ups, network and security audits, mobility solutions, disaster planning and emergency business resumption services. The company serves clients of 10 to 150 employees within the Silicon Valley region.