Secure Collaboration for Today’s Healthcare Organization
The outbreak of COVID-19 forced many unprecedented changes in healthcare. Practically overnight, U.S. medical care shifted to delivery by phone or video meeting as in-person care became a last resort for both patients and doctors. In overflowing hospitals, caregivers had to perform extensive PPE procedures every time they entered and exited patient rooms. Whenever possible, it was best for care teams to collaborate remotely to avoid exposure. In most cases, these changes happened on an accelerated timeline that left many healthcare providers without sufficient time to create a solid strategy or plan.
Out of this unplanned healthcare experiment, positive effects emerged. The shift to remote patient care has added flexibility to both providers’ and patients’ schedules, especially helping those patients with transportation or mobility difficulties. The expense and burden of putting on and removing PPE — as well as the concern of spreading COVID-19 — led to creative uses of in-room technology for patient consults and communication. Shifting some work to home office settings has created a precedent for more flexible work environments for some roles.
But a downside also emerged: data security.
During the first few months of the pandemic, harried IT departments shuttled employees onto their networks using virtual private network (VPN) connections. Many were forced to use their personal laptops and devices. If collaboration systems were not already in place, they were either hastily adopted or the number of user licenses on existing solutions were dramatically increased.
Collaboration Space Challenges
This created two main problems.
The first was cost. The dramatic spike in collaboration-platform licenses was not only unexpected but also unsustainable for many healthcare providers over the long term.
The second was data security. Many healthcare organizations did not have a robust VPN infrastructure designed to support a remote workforce securely. This left many physicians and employees to use their home networks — often unsecured Wi-Fi connections that other household members or even neighbors could access.
These home networks are a far cry from the robust networks required for healthcare organizations, with physical and virtual devices that mitigate cybersecurity attacks, protect patient data and support compliance. Home networks also make it impossible to implement the organizations’ detection and response plan should a breach occur. Beyond these challenges, many organizations struggled with remote patching and software updates, an important step in data security.
For IT leadership, this situation created an ugly chicken-and-egg scenario in which the cost of additional collaboration licenses negatively impacted needed investment in security. Additionally, providers quickly learned the limitations of certain collaboration platforms for their industry in terms of security and HIPAA compliance.
Many of the changes that were already trending and accelerated by the pandemic are here to stay, such as remote collaboration with specialists, the use of in-room screens for consultations, and some hybrid work arrangements.
To support care teams, healthcare IT leaders need to find the proper mix of effective collaboration tools, affordability and data security. IT leaders should explore collaboration solutions that are cloud-based for scale and operational efficiency and include built-in security features that don’t require restructuring their networks.
Considerations to Include When Choosing a Collaboration Solution
- How many people will need to access the collaboration platform?
- Does the platform offer volume licensing discounts?
- Does the platform allow multiple users to take advantage of a single license?
- Can the platform be used with current hardware, such as in-room TVs?
Admin-Level Security Features
- Does the platform enable role-based security that assigns different permission levels?
- Does the platform allow for administrators to allow or block remote viewing of shared content by participants?
- How are users authenticated? Can anyone join a session without email validation?
In-Session Security Features
- Does the platform have protected guest access that allows a guest client device to connect without granting access to the organization’s network?
- Does the platform provide full visibility of all participants and enable disconnection of suspect or inappropriate participants?
- Can the collaboration session be locked or ended quickly and easily?
- Does protected health information (PHI) stay behind the organization’s firewall?
Media Handling and Encryption
- Does shared content stay on the network, behind the organization’s firewall?
- What level of data encryption is enabled? Does the solution offer application-layer encryption with no persistent data/data at rest?
- Does the platform allow for secure IP direct connections so data doesn’t need to be transmitted the cloud?
Data Storage and Privacy
- Is user content or personal information stored on the collaboration platform?
- Does the platform meet HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) requirements?
With brighter days ahead, IT leaders can take the lessons of the past year and build a solid strategy moving forward to support a collaborative care model with data security squarely in the center.
Learn more about more secure and seamless collaboration with the Intel Unite® solution click here.