All posts by cybernet

Smart Watch Heart Monitors

Do Smartwatch ECGs Stand up to Doctor Scrutiny?

The fitness tracker and smartwatch industries are booming — CCS Insight, a research company, estimates that 140 million wearables will be sold every year by 2022.

But what impact does it have on healthcare, both for the individual and for their doctor?

Are companies like Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit angling to replace doctors, ECG machines, and medical computers?

What Are Fitness Wearables and What Can They Do?

Fear not: the trusty stethoscope and the electrocardiogram machine aren’t going anywhere. But, fitness wearables certainly can transform how patients and doctors communicate.

Fitness tracking devices get consumers moving, make them aware of their activity levels, and help them stay healthy and lose weight. And they aren’t just pedometers anymore — companies like Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple are integrating more sensors and fitness software practically every day.

Now that consumers have a constant feed of information about their activity levels, pulse rate, blood pressure — and can even discover if they’re suffering from heart arrhythmia — does that mean patients are healthier? At the moment, there isn’t enough data to tell.

Doctor’s should expect a flood of partially-informed, anxious patients all pointing frantically at their smartwatches. What are the best practices for handling this information, and, is it flooding doctors offices and urgent care units with false-positives?

Examining Wearable Accuracy

As a society, we’ve become more skeptical than ever — and that’s a good thing. So, when the glowing square on our wrist tells us that our heart rate just hit 220 and our ribcage is about to explode, should we trust it? How comparable is it really to a hospital EKG machine?

How can a device sitting on our arm detect that kind of thing with any real accuracy?

How the Sensors Work

Each smartwatch and high-end fitness tracker works a little differently.

At the low end, pedometers use a simple accelerometer to measure approximate step count.

For devices like the Apple Watch and the Fitbit Ionic, they deploy optical and electrical sensors against the skin to read the pulse and even blood oxygen levels, not unlike the same tech used in hospitals. These sensors are located either on the back plate of the watch, on a crown or button jutting out the side of the watchface (to be held while scanning), or in the watchband.

A Look at the Numbers

Studies have found that most fitness wearables are only right about half the time when it comes to step tracking, sleep monitoring, and energy-use estimations like calorie counts. While those features might not be such a big deal, the ECG and heartrate readings in wearables like the Apple Watch could have more dire consequences.

Lucky for consumers and worried doctors, the readings coming from the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Ionic, and the Garmin vivo line (to name a few) seem to be fairly accurate, depending on the model.

A thorough test and comparison by tech zine Tom’s Guide found that the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy watch were the most accurate, with an overall variance of 0.67 for reading accurate heart rates when tested against clinical chest straps. No surprise, considering they’re both pretty much the top-of-the-line when it comes to smartwatches.

Fitbit’s and Garmin’s flagship offerings lagged behind, with their devices rating anywhere from 1 standard variance all the way up to the not-terribly-accurate 5.67.

The ECGs Are Coming

The ECG sensor in the new Apple Watch has physicians and tech experts concerned: are false positives, increased hospital traffic, and the constant anxiety of helpful “health alarms” doing more harm than good? In essence, the question is: should we freak out?

First off, it’s important to remember that the Apple Watch has only been cleared by the FDA, and not approved, which is a much more complicated and rigorous process. “Cleared” essentially means that there is some truth to the claims being made, and that it isn’t actively dangerous to the public. It could be some time before the Apple Watch — and the Samsung Galaxy Watch, and the other alternatives — are fully approved for actual medical use.

Secondly, there’s been no real data to support that an influx of concerned smartwatch users are flooding the ER. The rise of telehealth and patient portals means that while it’s conceivable that doctors may be getting a few more emails than normal because of fitness trackers — “Doc, do I have bradycardia? Should I be worried?” — but an epidemic it ain’t.

Thirdly, having more data — from sources that are at least accurate enough to be a good starting point — is nothing but good news for patient and clinician alike. Smartwatch users will have months (possibly years) of heart rate, blood oxygen, and sleep levels available to send to their doctor at any time.

For home health providers or nurses or aids in settings like an elder care community, they can use their normal computer or medical tablet to upload the data for the patients and send it to their doctor when needed.

Wearables won’t be replacing a good check-up, but they might be able to enhance one.

Giving Patients Better Data

It doesn’t seem fair to give healthcare professionals another responsiblity, but it may be wise to help guide patients toward more accurate solutions. And, for patients, this is a good opportunity to improve the data you’re gathering on your own fitness levels.

Accessories that Can Help

While wearable ECGs seem to be relatively accurate, a study by the Cleveland Clinic found that their sensing capabilities can actually be improved by accessories like the “KardiaBand,” a watch band with built-in sensors that are far superior to the ones in off-the-shelf smartwatches.

In fact, the KardiaBand increased the chance of detecting atrial fibrillation to 99 percent, which is comparable to a physician reading the same ECG data. That’s quite a boon for patients and doctors everywhere, especially considering that an estimated 2.7 million people in the US have regular afib, which can, in turn, lead to heart failure and stroke.

The Watches that Watch You Better

The Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch rate the highest for heart rate accuracy, and should be recommended over the alternatives. However, for less expensive variants, the Fitbit Versa and the Garmin Fenix and Forerunner were relatively close in accuracy.

Informing patients of these more accurate options could give them a better sense of security, while at the same time reducing the number of false positives crowding up the waiting room.

An Apple Watch a Day

Whether you’re a patient or a clinician, it’s important to be aware that while consumer wearables can be incredibly useful (and even save lives on occasion), regular check-ups and physicals are far more important for long-term health.

Still, wearables can be treated as an additional tool in a doctor’s toolbelt, with a little planning and organization.

Contact Cybernet to find out more about strategies for implementing patient-gathered fitness data, and to learn about the medical computers and EMR software that can be used to store and process that data.

Top Hospitals

What Makes a Top Hospital?

The truth is, there is no perfectly objective method to determine the “best hospital.”

But, there’s no denying that the highest ranked hospitals have a few qualities in common: innovation, patient care, and communication above everything else.

But how do they do it? How can we apply those lessons to hospitals around the world?

Embracing Innovation

Unsurprisingly, innovation and a willingness to adopt new technology rank high on the list.

It isn’t always about money, either. It’s about the hospitals that aren’t afraid to shake up existing processes, to educate the staff and deploy new tools to the best possible use.

Adopting Agile Hardware

Health professionals and clinicians everywhere are on their feet for days at a time, racing from room to room. As computer systems and EHR invade every inch of medical life, there simply isn’t always time to sit at a desktop computer.

Some hospitals have embraced mobile technology like medical tablets. Modern medical tablets are small, portable, and some come with hot-swappable batteries — meaning they can be in constant operation without having to sit and charge for a portion of the day. They also can be equipped with built-in barcode, RFID, and smart card scanners, removing a lot of the peripherals clogging up computer carts.

Blockchain

One of the keys of innovation is vision — as hockey legend Wayne Gretzky put it, “don’t look where the puck is. Look where the puck is going.” When it comes to data protection sharing, the proverbial puck is heading toward distributed ledgers like blockchain.

In short, blockchain democratizes information, protecting it by sharing an encrypted version of a particular file or database across hundreds or thousands of other computers on the chain. For healthcare applications, the security and accountability of blockchain make it difficult for hackers to penetrate, or for unintentional leaks to occur.

Blockchain also has fantastic applicability in drug tracking, which is required by law after the “Drug Supply Chain Security” act of 2013. And since every transaction in the shared database is constantly checked against the same copy stored on multiple servers, illegally altering the drug inventory for nefarious purposes is basically impossible.   

Interoperability

Hospitals and healthcare are heavily burdened by the twin chains of high stakes and the ensuing regulation that comes with such an important responsibility.

But, like all complex endeavors, communication is key. And not just communication between management and staff, or staff and patients — though that’s important too — but also among the hardware and software that has become ubiquitous in medical practices.

EHR Software Blues

EHR systems don’t always play nice with others, with many software companies making it actively difficult to communicate with competitor software. This is why top hospitals, and those striving to avoid these pitfalls, embrace emergent technology.

The way forward isn’t exactly clear: even Trinity Health reported a 100 million dollar fee for switching to a more unified EHR system. However, more popular EHR systems like Epic — and the medical computers with built-in Epic compatibility — have a wider reach and more options for inter-hospital communication.

Improved Patient Outcomes

Top hospitals all have one thing in common, and it’s both the most important and least-surprising component: patient quality of care, patient satisfaction, and patient outcomes.

It’s unhelpful to say “the best hospitals are the ones that have the healthiest patients.” It’s more important to dive into why these patients go home happier and healthier.

Never Too Much Information

Top hospitals do keep a weather eye on feedback and metrics.

If patient outcomes take a dip, smart administrators will research all of the changes to the hospital up to a few months before the drop. A strong system of data — perhaps stored on the blockchain mentioned earlier and accessible by any connected medical PC — can allow admin to cross-check contributing factors like management changes, new hires, equipment installation / loss, season, new epidemics, and even economic or political changes in the area.

As Sherlock Holmes would say: “Data, data, data.” You can’t make bricks without clay.

Ask the Patients

Patient care and patient outcomes go hand-in-hand, which is why user surveys are so important to top-level hospitals.

There are three great times for administering patient satisfaction surveys: when they are discharged, on the patient portal afterward, and in-room during care. While discharge and portal surveys are best left in written or digital form, a quick in-person check can provide emotional context clues.

Some hospitals have a staff manager make a quick round with every patient, asking them something simple like “how was the food?”, “were your medications explained well?” and/or “were your needs met in a timely manner?” Consider including one of your common pain points in the survey. If your hospital has been receiving negative feedback about patients feeling like they aren’t being given options, ask the current patient if they feel that way.

This in-person survey answers can either be jotted down on a clipboard by the staff member, or inputted into a medical tablet or nearby medical computer.

Patient Engagement

Studies have shown that an engaged patient is an attentive patient, one who takes responsibility for their own healthcare.

They participate as a member of the medical team, especially when given the education and support by the hospital or healthcare provider.

Improving Patient Portals

Top hospitals and healthcare providers have online patient portals, a place for patients to make and manage appointments (at a minimum). However, top facilities push even further, creating a one-stop-shop for patient education and communication.

The best portals allow patients to pursue educational videos and programs based on their conditions — if a patient is undergoing a vasectomy, for instance, a flag in the system sends the appropriate videos, statistics, and study materials to the patient’s inbox.

Consider offering voluntary quizzes or “refreshers” where the patient can demonstrate and cement their knowledge of their condition or upcoming procedure.

The Human Touch

Engagement in person is just as important.

Clinicians need to be trained to present diagnoses and treatment options in layman’s terms, verifying every step of the way that the patient is synthesizing the information and not just nodding and smiling. Ask them what they know about their condition already, and use this opportunity to (gently) correct them if they are under false impressions.

If there are any available, accessible education videos or visual aids you could show the patient on something like a medical LCD monitor, that will only help them retain information.

In performing these “educational checks,” the top hospitals in the United States (and the world) help patients make the most of their treatment, and reduce the kind of misconceptions and errors that end up putting patients right back in the hospital.

Community Importance / Engagement

While medical care will always be of primary importance, top hospitals have expanded beyond the patient’s room and out into the community.

Food insecurity has a devastating effect on patient success and long-term health, both physically and mentally. The higher-ranking hospitals usually have some kind of food bank or pantry program to help feed underprivileged members of the community. It isn’t just about charity — though that is a noble goal — it’s a natural extension of a hospital’s function. Malnutrition — especially at a young age — can lead to a host of health problems later in life.

Hospitals that provide safe playgrounds, libraries, or indoor play-spaces for community children are most effective in low-income or high-crime areas. A study by the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University found that crime increased markedly around parks, with some areas displaying crime statistics twice as high in the park as in surrounding environs.

And since children are the most common users of park playgrounds, well-meaning attempts to have fun and get some exercise could end up exposing the most at-risk children to unhealthy experiences. Safe and supervised hospital playground spaces mitigate that damage, providing a safe space for neighborhood children to play and thrive.

Reaching and engaging the community can provide a kind of pre-emptive healthcare, giving those in need the tools and education necessary to live a long and healthy life.

Common Factors

When it comes to examining why top hospitals are so effective and laudable, it’s a smart idea to also take a look at possible contributing factors.

While the following factors may not necessarily land on this side of the causation/correlation loop, the stats don’t lie, and these factors do seem disproportionately common in higher-scoring hospitals.

The Power of Teaching Hospitals

While many might shy away from getting their haircut at a barber college, it turns out that healthcare at a teaching hospital tends to rank higher.

They even have lower mortality rates: a study posted on PubMed found that “private teaching hospitals had a significantly lower adjusted mortality rate than private nonteaching hospitals,” with an 8-point increase in survival rates for the teaching hospitals.

Some believe that since both the teachers and students are on their best behavior, and are under such stringent regulations and supervision that their care may be similarly elevated.

More experimental or rare medical procedures are often only available at teaching hospitals, allowing student doctors to experience a wide variety of solutions like bone marrow transplants and other specialized surgeries. This could explain some of the higher patient outcomes coming out of a teaching hospital — many patients who need difficult procedures end up receiving them at these educational hospitals.  

Size Doesn’t Matter

Large hospitals may have the benefit of resources, but they don’t always score higher based off size alone.

In the 2016 “100 Great Hospitals in America” listing by Becker Hospital Review, only 15% of their top-level hospitals had over 1,000 beds. And while every other hospital on the list wasn’t necessarily a three-bed hospice, it does show that “biggest guns” may not be as important to patient outcome as one would believe at first blush.

A Pinch of Salt

Remember to take hospital ratings with a healthy dose of skepticism — hospitals are simply too complicated to be easily graded. And, doing well on reviews might mean that the hospital is just good at the paperwork required by reviewing bodies.

However, the basic tenets of patient care, innovation, and communication will always hold out over the ratings on a medical blog.

To learn more about integrating the latest medical computers and how they can streamline processes in a hospital, contact Cybernet today.

Medical Computers help Digital Dentistry

Surviving the Transition to Digital Dentistry

Transitioning from a standard dental office to a fully digital practice causes many dentists to balk.

The initial cost is high, the learning curve can feel extreme, and the constantly-mutating nature of technological progress can make some clinicians wonder if what’s here today is going to be gone tomorrow.

So, is the transition necessary? And if it is, how can dental practices of any size find a way forward through a potentially expensive and frustrating experience?

Do I Need It?

It’s the question every reluctant adopter has: “Do I really need all of this stuff?”

We’re going to have to put it simply: yes. Yes, you do. When it comes to EHR systems and HIPAA, it’s literally the law, with mandatory compliance measures popping up all over the place in 2019. The biometric, RFID, and smart card integration of modern medical computers provide a simple platform for patient records and HIPAA compliance.

Secondly, most modern dental techniques already require a digital platform — any future techniques are only going to require more technology. In essence, it becomes a game of “now or later.” Digitizing the dental office is inevitable, and the sooner the practice embraces it, the faster they can enjoy the many benefits.

CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacturing) techniques are everywhere in modern dentistry and are far more accurate, generally less costly in the long run, and can create implants that might have otherwise been impossible or very difficult to manufacture.

Intra-oral scanners are also providing unprecedented intel for dentists, gleaning information that a stick and a mirror simply can’t replicate.

Going digital isn’t just about future-proofing your business and streamlining your workflow — it’s also about caring for patients with the best tools at hand.

Climbing the Learning Curve

Keeping up with dental knowledge and techniques is already a job of work for most clinicians — the idea of also having to learn new computer systems can feel daunting.

Many dentists report that the fear of the learning curve prevents many from taking the full leap into digital dentistry. However, there are a number of easy training resources, support options, and even purchase choices that end up creating a far more shallow learning curve.

Ask for Help

The first option, of course, is to connect with a more tech-savvy member of the staff. Dental assistants often tend to be younger than the dentist they work with, and while no guarantee, are more likely to have high tech confidence. Any dental technicians in the practice are well-versed in technology by definition, and can also be of huge help fielding questions and basic troubleshooting. Lean on them for aid.

Another option is to contact friendly associates in the dental business who have already made the leap to a fully digital office. Tell them your concerns and ask them what their strategies were for tackling them.

Choose Touchscreen Computers

When it comes to the computers you’ll need to purchase to make the transition, consider making your job simpler by employing touchscreen devices. Touchscreens are naturally more intuitive, skipping control schemes and allowing the user to simply touch exactly what they need to control or alter.

Medical touch screen computers are an even better option — they’re often made with antimicrobial casings, reducing the normal payload of bacteria that tends to collect on such devices.

They’re usually easier to clean, too, with a sealed front bezel that allows full sterilization from spray cleaners and wipes.

What About Computer Crashes?

Paper records don’t crash or lag, and plaster molds don’t suffer from hard drive failures. We come now to the most famous worry of would-be digitizers everywhere: that a slow or unstable computer is going to slow down workflow or outright lose vital records.

Yes, technology is imperfect — but so is everything else. Sometimes computers crash. They’re made of silicon, which is basically just pressed, hot sand. However, the benefits of a faster, more efficient workflow almost always makes up for the occasional glitch — that is, if you choose the right equipment.

Choose Better Equipment

The kinds of computers needed to run and render 3D scans of patient’s mouths are already pretty beefy, but long-term durability may be just as important as their processor specs.

Fanless medical PCs with a 3-5 year life cycle provide a higher ROI. Not only do they last longer, and require less training (because they don’t change out as often), but their sealed bezels and fanless design greatly reduce the number of crashes, downtime incidents, and failures normally associated with off-the-shelf consumer computers.

One high-quality medical computer is going to outlast a consumer model three times over and provide a better, faster experience during that same lifespan.

Back It Up

Data loss can be frightening — it can also be avoided. In the modern world of cloud storage and on-site backups, there’s simply no reason why a crash should jeopardize patient files and CAD/CAM work.

Cloud services like Dropbox and Carbonite — just to name a few — offer encrypted, HIPAA-approved data storage that can be scaled anywhere from a few terminals and user profiles to an entire healthcare group. The files in question, be they patient records or CAD work files, are stored both locally on the computer and in the cloud, providing double the protection.

The practice could (Heaven-forbid) burn to the ground with every computer reduced to a smoking ruin, and all files would be completely safe. Ditto for if a computer or medical tablet is stolen — you’ll still have access to the files, but the encryption will prevent outside actors from making use of it.

If you’re a “belt and suspenders” type of person, consider also getting an external hard drive or backup server on the premises, and use software to schedule regular backups as well.

Most cloud services also make file-sharing easier for authorized users, meaning dental employees will have a much easier time of sending CAD files, patient records, or any other information to other members of the practice without a hitch.

The Price of Admission

At the end of the day, let’s be realistic: cost is always going to be one of the strongest factors in digital adoption. And there are no two ways about it: computers, software, milling machines, 3D printers, and micro-imaging cameras don’t come cheap.

But, it’s not like dental drills and X-ray machines — both ubiquitous in dental offices — came from the dollar store. Medical equipment is expensive, but there are ways to mitigate some of the damage.

The primary method of saving cash in the long run is to take a good, long look down the road. As we said, and as you know, computers eventually break down. Cars break down, buildings break down, it’s just a fact of life. But, to maintain the car analogy, a $1500 car bought from the neighbor is going to break down a lot faster than a brand new Honda.

Consider digitizing your dental office with high-quality medical all-in-one computers and medical tablets, heavy duty mills for implants, time-tested and well-reviewed 3D printers, and any other recommended gear from fellow dental associates and dental communities.

Consider the price as an investment, not only in your self and in your practice, but in your patients as well.

A Quick Transition is Better

Like removing the proverbial Band-Aid, some hard transitions should be done all at once.

Trying to finagle compatibility issues between new and legacy devices can be frustrating and fruitless. Consider this when purchasing new IT hardware and look for medical computers that have legacy ports that are compatible with your older devices. This will help save money on your initial investment and will provide better ROI down the road.

Whatever your digital dental transition needs, reach out to Cybernet for quotes on medical computers that can be customized to the specifications of your dental practice.

photo by david henrichs at unsplash

Can Smart Farming Solve the Food Crisis?

According to the “World Population Prospects” report published by the United Nations, Earth may play host to 9.7 billion people by 2050. With hunger already a problem in both developed and undeveloped nations (though at differing levels), how can food production match food needs over the next 30+ years?

Can technology like GPS, drones, industrial tablet PCs, and “Internet of Things” devices help bridge the gap between food production now and food production in the future?

Increasing the Number of Farms Isn’t Enough

Land is already at a premium anywhere with the proper climate and soil for farming, and simply increasing size may not be the best option. Environmental concerns, lack of available land, and water access could all stand in the way of a “more is more” approach.

Instead, farmers will have to increase the yield on their current farms to keep up with global demand.

Reducing Crop Waste

They’ll also have to reduce the waste — as it stands, 150,000 tons of food in the United States is wasted through either spoilage, harvesting mix-ups, transportation errors, or consumer waste. These numbers are even higher in countries with less technology, less infrastructure, and a broken “cold chain” that is unable to keep produce consistently refrigerated for long trips.

While farmers can only claim a portion of the responsibility for wastage, an increase in efficiency at the growing and harvesting level could massively increase effective yield. It will also mean that the water, fertilizer, and time being wasted on crops that end up in the garbage will be better used elsewhere.

Smart farming technologies are perfect for increasing efficiency, yield, and reducing waste.

Agricultural Drones

With farming, as in all things, knowledge is power. The power to increase yield, reduce waste, and in general do more with fewer resources. To this end, gathering data is key.

Using drones for agriculture is one of the many new applications for unmanned vehicles.

For Gathering Information

Agricultural drones analyze soil properties, cataloging data like soil erosion, moisture levels, and nitrogen content, and they do it all from the air and at a far greater speed than a person taking samples on the ground. This reduces time spent gathering this data by hand, and does it far more accurately and with a larger sample size.

With this data, a farmer would know where irrigation is problematic before it becomes a problem, or figure out which area is in desperate need of fertilizer before the crops start to yellow.

Some drones even use infrared sensors to detect how green crops are, detecting signs of unhealthy or diseased crops while there’s still time to do something about them.

For Protecting the Crops

Some drones can even be fitted with sprayers, and are far more accurate than most mass crop dusting methods for distributing pesticide. This accuracy also generally means they use less pesticide, which is good for the budget and for the environment.  

The best part is that many of these agricultural drones don’t require special control gear. Instead, a rugged industrial tablet PC or industrial all-in-one computer can be used as a control device, offering up photos, video, and all of the data collected in the drone’s flight.

All of these drone tools really come down to one purpose — keeping crops healthy and alive no matter how large the farm, thus reducing waste and increasing yield.

RFID Tags for Tracking Livestock

“Radio-Frequency Identification,” or “RFID,” is used in industry and hospitals to keep track of inventory, important assets, and (in the case of healthcare applications) even people and their conditions.

Improving Animal Health

Tagging livestock can provide many of the same benefits. A farmer with an RFID equipped industrial tablet can scan the RFID chip on the animal in question and get a full report of activity for that animal.

When was the last time it was vaccinated? Is it time for a check-up? What about cleaning, or milking, or when it’s mating season is? How has its weight changed compared to last year? Compared to the average weight of all other livestock?

You could even use livestock tags to track pregnancy and general population growth. Traits and genetic markers (both positive and negative) could be tracked through livestock “family lines,” providing more info about what to expect with each individual animal. This could be especially useful when animal husbandry is actually part of your business, like horse breeding.

Sick animals can be identified and separated according to their needs, and thus easily identified by their ID tag. Their treatment could also be logged alongside their ID, so a quick scan can tell a vet exactly what’s been done (and what still needs to be done). Even medication frequency, and a log of medication use, could be slapped right alongside all of the other data on the animal.

Healthier Animals Means Higher Production

While all this could certainly be documented in the past, being able to just hold up an industrial tablet to the cow or horse and find out everything about them in seconds is a far more efficient and user-friendly method.

With this level of care and health monitoring, livestock are more likely to live longer, be healthier, and produce more. And since food production is going to have to step it up to meet demand, RFID tags could have a long-lasting effect on yield in the meat, egg, and dairy industries.

Smart Farming with the Internet of Things

Drones can be expensive, so when looking for smart farming solutions there are plenty of small, connected devices that can perform similar operations.

Soil Sensors

Soil sensors can be placed in strategic locations around the farm and can feed regular updates on H2O and nitrogen content right to a device like an industrial tablet PC. The data won’t be quite as detailed as aerial drone data, but it’ll still give a great picture of the soil composition without breaking the bank.

This data can reduce resource consumption — why water an area that’s already plenty moist? Or, on the flipside, maybe a section that isn’t scheduled for watering is unseasonably dry. Having that data at your fingertips could save an entire field of crops that might have otherwise died.

Weather Stations

Weather sensors and weather stations can be placed around the fields, providing up-to-the-second data on wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and humidity. Connected sensors, like the soil sensors above, can beam the information right to the farmer’s tablet or anywhere they’ve mounted a touch panel PC for other farm operations.

Having an accurate picture of the current weather could improve pesticide spraying operations, crop watering, and a hundred other processes.

Over the long term, the weather data can be collected and used to predict future trends, as well as to help calculate why certain years may have had different crop yields.

This kind of information can even be shared with other farmers, creating a fully connected community.

Feeding the Future

Sustainable farming practices and smart farming technology could provide for the additional 2 or 3 billion people coming our way without even digging up another plot of land.

To learn more about how industrial tablet PCs and the internet of things can improve smart farming, contact Cybernet today.

Medical Asset Tracking: How to Get Started

An explosion of new medical inventions is great news in all but one respect: asset management.

A wealth of cutting-edge devices helps patients and staff, but it also means keeping track of a flood of new gear. Unfortunately, storage space and logistical systems don’t always get the same level of attention as the shiny new technology coming into the hospital.

So, how does a modern hospital manage this glut of new devices?

How can hospitals use medical computers to implement the same kind of asset tracking that has served warehouses and industry so well?

Locating Equipment

The first two questions asked by any asset management project are “What do we have?” and “Where is it?”

The asset tracking chain has to begin when the machine, tool, or supply item arrives. As soon as it comes off the truck, a barcode or RFID tag should be applied, defined, and scanned into the system. This should include the initial install location of the item, cost, expected life cycle, and any other relevant information.

Once this information has been entered into the system, it’s just a matter of education and policy to make sure hospital staff are scanning equipment when it gets moved to a new location. Almost every room has a computer on wheels or medical tablet nearby, which can then use built-in barcode and/or RFID scanners to keep every piece of gear cataloged and ready.

Reduce the Time Spent Hunting for Medical Gear

According to a survey of over 1,000 nurses, a third of nurses spend 1 hour each shift just trying to find commonly-used equipment. 16% said they experienced incidents where they eventually just gave up looking and did without the equipment in question. The survey also found that mattresses, pumps, thermometers, keys, and IV stands were the equipment that tended to disappear the most.

A central asset management database tied to scanner-equipped medical tablets and computer carts would allow staff to look up the gear they need. The database could even be configured to display a map of that particular room or floor, guiding the nurse or doctor right to the location of the wayward instrument.

Fighting Theft

According to a report by ADT Healthcare, an estimated 52 million dollars in medical supplies and equipment are stolen by patients every year.

ADT found that most patient theft happens, not surprisingly, right in the patient’s room. Items like scrubs, linens, pillows, and phones are the most common targets, but patients have stolen otoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and desk chargers. Even wall clocks have found their way into patient backpacks and purses, if you can believe it.

With expensive or bulky items tagged with RFID, and less expensive items printed with barcodes, tracking theft becomes much simpler. With each item tagged to each room, and each patient scanned into the same room, it’s not difficult to match the missing item with the potential pilfering patient.

It’s essentially a system not unlike the mini-bar at a hotel. The hotel knows who’s in the room, and they know what’s in the fridge, and when it disappears they know just where to send the bill. And while charging patients for missing items may not be as simple, it’s at least a great place to begin the investigation.

As for staff theft, staff smart cards or individual RFID fobs can mitigate much of the issue. When every storage closet and bin is locked by RFID — and also set up to record whoever uses it and when — accountability deters the worst of the thefts.

ADT found that even something as simple as a scrub vending machine tied to smartcards lowered theft of scrubs by a significant amount. Now imagine the far greater consequences of being caught stealing expensive, easily-traced medical equipment or illegal drugs.

Knowing the Life-Cycle of Medical Machines

Asset tracking isn’t just for fighting shrink and theft. It’s also about knowing what condition your equipment is in, how old it is, and the last time it received cleaning or maintenance.

It’s a simple concept: maintenance techs who diagnose, repair, replace, or clean a vital device like an advanced diagnostic imaging PC or a Da Vinci robotic surgery machine could scan the RFID tag or barcode, and enter it into the maintenance tracking system. Then, all repairs, replacements, and cleaning cycles can be recorded and time-stamped.

From there, an automated system could let administrators, techs, and regular equipment operators know when it’s coming time for another cleaning or maintenance check-up. This saves time, increases general productivity, reduces equipment downtime, and ultimately expands the usable life cycle of all devices.

Improving Sterilization Tracking

Infection is one of the greatest dangers in medicine. Sepsis affects 30 million people in the world per year, according to the World Health Organization. Infection is also potentially responsible for the deaths of 6 million of those affected.

From operating rooms to laboratories to dentist offices, thoroughly sterilized medical equipment represents the front line of the war against infection.

While current healthcare sterilization methods are fairly advanced in most developed countries, there’s always room for improvement and error-checking when humans are involved in any process. The Center for Disease Control has strict guidelines on what surfaces need to be sterilized, how often and with what acceptable method.

Asset Tags for Medical Equipment

All medical instruments and machines can be tagged with RFID tags, sticker barcodes, or even permanent barcodes that can be etched or stamped into smaller instruments (like scalpels). When these instruments are being cleaned, the staff member can scan the tag with a handheld scanner, medical tablet, or nearby medical computer with a built-in RFID or barcode scanner.

This not only updates the location of the equipment, but it can also provide a “last cleaned” date stamp on the spreadsheet or database. These can either be reviewed manually to create a cleaning schedule, or set up to notify relevant personnel when an item has passed it’s “clean-by” date.

Chain of Responsibility

This also creates a system of accountability — when an instrument wasn’t properly cleaned, it can be traced back to its origin. In 2015, surgeons at a Detroit children’s hospital had to halt an open-heart operation on a 7-month-old because they found a previous patient’s blood still clogged in the tube of a bypass machine.

Sterilization tracking would not only make it possible to locate the person or machine responsible for the mistake, but such granular accountability would make future staff members more vigilant about cleaning instruments.

Tracking Instruments Used on Patients

In keeping with the “chain of responsibility” concept, RFID and barcode asset tracking techniques can also be used to keep a full, secure log of every piece of medical equipment used on any particular patient.

Scanning a patient’s wristband is standard procedure in most hospitals these days. The clinician could then scan the medical device about to be used on the patient, or even any medical device that enters the patient’s room for a higher-level perspective.

At the end of treatment, the patient’s entire journey through the hospital would be recorded, including each blood pressure cuff, digital thermometer, heart monitor, or MRI machine that came in contact with the patient.

This kind of tracking granularity is not only important for accurate medical records, but it can actually be used to help prevent mishaps. It’s difficult for a sponge or other piece of medical equipment to get left inside of a patient when a nurse or doctor scans every bit of gear before and after surgery to account for it.

Securing Pharmaceuticals with RFID Tags

The “Drug Supply Chain Security Act,” introduced in 2013, mandates that medical facilities use a comprehensive drug-tracking system to prevent fraud. The opioid epidemic is a real concern, causing 115 deaths per day, a large portion of which could be prevented by better drug-tracking systems.

Barcodes are already a vital component in drug tracking systems, which is why having a medical computer or tablet with an integrated barcode scanner can be such a boon for asset tracking.

Storage of commonly-used drugs could be keyed to staff RFID tags, which are waved at a door sensor. The storage unit then unlocks (based on the user’s credentials), and records who accessed the drugs and when they did it.

This isn’t just for theft mitigation. These features also help with inventory, depending on how granular you get with ID tags, warning purchasers when it may be time to order more medication.

Secure Equipment Helps Patients, Doctors, and the Bottom Line

The financial benefits of asset tracking for medical devices simply can’t be overstated. Save on shrink, theft, poor maintenance, sterilization snafus, and lost productivity with an air-tight tracking system.

Contact Cybernet to learn more about how to implement medical computers and medical tablets to protect hospital supplies and long-term assets.

Operating Room

How to Improve Patient Safety in the Operating Room

“First do no harm” is a guiding principle for many doctors and clinicians, and its meaning holds extra weight in an operating room.

Almost everything in an operating room could be harmful, from the surgical implements to the power running through the heart monitor to the germs in the very air. That being the case, how can medical computer technology, robust asset tracking, and even robotic-assisted surgery work harder to safeguard patients?

What are the most common dangers in the operating room, and how can they be controlled and contained?

Fighting Sepsis in the Operating Room

Sepsis — or, the condition of extreme infection — is a common enemy in the hospital, affecting more than a million patients in the United States alone. A third of those inflicted don’t survive.

Luckily, modern medical technology is both decreasing the chances of infection, and improving the outlook of those who suffer from it. Techniques like ultra-violet radiation exposure, employed during the procedure itself to lower surgical-site bacteria, have been around for decades.

However, there are more recent methods that can reinforce the sterile field of the operating room.

What are the benefits of a sealed medical computer?

Medical computers and medical LCD monitors equipped with antimicrobial housing can reduce the surface level of bacteria-friendly growth areas in the OR. The antimicrobial housing on these units also complements the dust-tight and splash-resistant front bezel.

With an IP65 rating for particle and liquid breach, medical monitors and computers in an operating room can be thoroughly sterilized by spraying them and rubbing them down with many of the same chemicals already being employed by the sanitation staff.

A newer innovation, fanless design, means that the medical monitor or medical computer can stay cool without the use of a fan. Fan’s are traditionally a huge weak point in any computer system. They move air through the machine, which — in an operating room — can create a pocket of infection that is then sprayed all around the area. Which is why a computer or monitor without a fan is so helpful to surgeons and anesthesiologists inside the OR.

This impenetrable design also means that bacteria, infected liquids, and dust-born pathogens can’t enter and fester inside of the dark, warm environment typical of most computers.

These modern medical computer construction methods eliminate one more infection vector inside the operating room.

How Does Robot-Assisted Surgery Help Patients?

Robot-assisted surgery allows surgeons to operate in tiny spaces, but with all the dexterity (or more) of their normal process.

How it works: One to four tiny cuts are made, depending on the surgery, into which the thin robotic arms are inserted. These arms are equipped with various tools, custom-equipped for the procedure at hand — and, of course, micro-cameras and lights. The surgeon then controls the limbs from a nearby console, which allows them to perform the surgery and even magnify the picture to an extent unmatched by human eyes.

The other bonus to robot-assisted surgery is — because the surgery cuts are so small — they heal faster, are less likely to get infected, and cause far less pain to the patient in the long run.

And while robot-assisted surgery has been around for a little bit, recent advances may allow surgeons to use the process to operate on areas that used to be far too cramped and complex: the spine, and the brain.

One of the newer robotic surgery assistants is the digital microscope, exemplified by the Modus V made by Synaptive Medical Inc. Positioned above the patient during surgery, robotic digital microscopes can provide the surgical team with unprecedented access to even the smallest components of the body’s complex nervous system.

Robot-assisted surgery ensures that no big problem is too small, and that the patient’s surgery and recovery is priority #1 for the hospital who leverages it.                                                                                                 

The Dangers of Long-Distance Anesthesia

A recent study found that not only are anesthesiologists performing more of their in-surgery duties from outside of the operating room, but that this trend may be having proven consequences to patient health. Malpractice claims for death involving anesthesiologists who were in another room increased by over 20%, as did respiratory damage and inadequate oxygenation events.

The study went on to conclude that these remote location events could have been prevented by better (and closer) monitoring.

The primary reason for an anesthesiologist being outside of the operating theatre is his or her computer. A standard computer or laptop uses fans to cool the CPU and motherboard, to keep everything running at the right operating temperature. As we learned earlier, fans in an operating room are a huge liability, spreading infected air and debris all around the room.

A fanless medical computer allows an anesthesiologist to stay in the room, increasing patient safety, improving their own organization and efficiency, and keeping the surgery team all together in the same space.

How Does Asset Tracking Make the Operating Room Safer?

It’s a sad fact that the average warehouse has a more robust asset-tracking system than any hospital or operating theater.

Asset tracking isn’t about inventory, necessarily — it’s about knowing where every important instrument and tool is located, what condition it’s in, and whether or not it’s ready for use.

Tracking Surgical Instruments

A scalpel or clamp or other surgical instruments could be stamped with a barcode. This barcode is then scanned by a medical tablet, which tracks its progress through both the hospital and its own life and use cycle.

If all instruments are scanned after being sterilized, and then scanned after being double checked, and then scanned when they leave a storage area and head to the OR, it reduces errors in the supply chain and increases accountability.

When a nurse in the operating room opens a fresh tray of instruments and scans their barcodes, they’ll have access to the full picture of that instrument. They can confirm it’s been properly sterilized and even sent to the right operating room for the correct operation.

Digital Asset Tracking for Blood Transfusions

Barcodes and RFID tags are already in use to track blood units and eliminate potential errors.

Blood for transfusion is as common in an OR as scrubs, which is why it’s so important that proper, modern asset tracking and inventory practices apply. A patient receiving the wrong blood type during surgery can even be fatal — the body’s immune system attempts to “fight” the new blood, which can lead to catastrophic health issues.

A tracking system for blood units, one paired with the wristband of the patient, does an excellent job of minimizing the chance of the kind of small snafus that can turn into huge problems.

Risk is Our Business

Surgery will always carry an element of risk, and no OR will ever be completely free of danger. However, embracing modern medical computers and the latest safety techniques can increase patient safety and improve the conditions of the operating room for the staff as well.
Reach out to Cybernet to learn more about how modern medical computers, monitors, and tablets can increase workflow and reduce the chance of infection.

blockchain healthcare data security

Is Blockchain Right for Healthcare?

You may have heard that blockchain is “the next big thing.” And while “next big things” seem to rain from the sky in the tech world, there may be some truth in this particular case.

Blockchain came on the scene in 2008, the brainchild of a still-anonymous person or team of people called “Satoshi Nakamoto.” Despite these tantalizingly mysterious origins, blockchain is well understood and implemented as a distributed ledger to both protect and disseminate important information.

But how does this apply to healthcare?

Does blockchain really have the opportunity to upend how medical computers, EMR, and even clinical studies operate?

What is Blockchain?

The “block” portion of “blockchain” refers to encrypted vaults of information, while the “chain” refers to the connections with other, similar blocks of data.

Blockchain, at its heart, is a way to safeguard digital data by sharing it with thousands of users simultaneously.

The basic idea is that blockchain keeps data safe by keeping it encrypted and redundant, not unlike how iCloud or Dropbox protects files by storing them in multiple locations.

The data is difficult if not impossible to corrupt, because it’s being compared with the same version of the file hosted on every other computer connected to the block. And this checking occurs nonstop, confirming the authenticity of each alteration and transaction.

This is where the term “distributed ledger” comes into the equation. Since everyone can see the changes and transactions done to any data in the block — and who made those changes —  the ledger is secure. It’s like having your own team of perfect, robot accountants auditing your EMR computer hundreds of times a day.

Why is Blockchain Needed in Healthcare?

Primarily, blockchain can help healthcare providers avoid the avalanche of HIPAA violations that have fallen on the industry as of late.

The number of breaches appears to be growing, and with it the price tag of the fines being levied. In 2014, Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital settled a fine for a data breach to the tune of 4.8 million dollars, which at the time was the highest fine ever handed out.

In 2017, Memorial Healthcare System, a Florida-based healthcare group, suffered a data breach that compromised over 115,000 patient and staff records. They were forced to pay a $5.5 million settlement.

But in 2018, Anthem, one of the largest healthcare groups in the world, forked over a record-obliterating 16 million dollars in fines after 78.8 million member records were compromised by hackers.

Either hackers are becoming more adept, IT systems are falling behind, or the amount of digital information in unsecured storage has increased. In all likelihood, all three of these factors are responsible for the rise in both data breaches and ensuing fines.

Since laws and regulations around the country — and indeed, around the world — are only forcing more patient data to be digitized and shared, there’s only one way to securely move forward and protect both patient information and hospital liability: an encrypted, incorruptible distributed ledger like blockchain, with access availability right on the nearest medical cart computer in any exam or patient room?

Implementing Blockchain

Integration with EMR systems and EMR computers is priority one.

As it stands, many healthcare groups are on different EMR programs and standards, making transfer of medical data difficult. This transfer is also a common breach point for hackers and data thieves.

Electronic Medical Records

Unsecured transfer of data is an easy target, which is what makes blockchain so useful. Because data is encrypted, copied, and stored on every computer in the block, there’s no transfer to scoop up. There’s no single vulnerable point that can be hit by DDoS attacks or corrupted by a virus.

The implications of a secure, incorruptible system for electronic medical records point to a potential sea-change in how data is stored. Imagine storing patient consent forms like organ donor consent, living wills, and DNR directives, all easily accessible by the authorized users. Double down on security with a medical computer equipped with two-factor authentication like a smartcard (or RFID, or biometric) scanner and a quick pin code.

That’s a one-two punch of security that can make HIPAA compliance a breeze.

Clinical Trial Data

There are other, far-reaching uses for both secure and easily-accessible data. Clinical trials and medical studies, for instance, are often made difficult by the logistical issues of having to store and collate a wealth of data. In the case of multiple parties contributing to a trial or study, the problem is only compounded.

Then add in that clinicians often to have de-identify the patients in the trials (but also have the ability to re-identify them for implementation or health reasons), and you’ve got a multi-headed hydra of potential data breaches.

Storing clinical study data on a blockchain is a perfect use of the technology and something that health giants like Pfizer and Amgen are already considering.

Blockchain for Preventing Fraud

Of course, not all theft comes in the form of hacking. Both insurance fraud and drug fraud cost hospitals (and sometimes patients) millions of dollars a year.

Preventing Health Insurance Fraud

In 2014, there were 2.3 million cases of medical identity theft, and the number has only been rising ever since.

This identity theft was usually for the purposes of either scoring prescription drugs or for using a patient’s insurance for “free” medical procedures.

This particular form of fraud is particularly devastating because it affects patients and healthcare providers alike, both of whom can have their reputations and finances irreparably damaged.

And, even worse, if the thief does receive treatment, their information (blood type, risk factors, allergies, even diagnoses) can get mingled with the actual patient. If this happens, it could cause incorrect diagnoses, medication complications, or the infusion of incorrectly-typed blood which can seriously injure or even kill someone.

There are even other potential consequences of medical identity theft: a Utah woman, Anndorie Cromar, was nearly arrested (and almost had her children taken away) when an identity thief used her insurance to pay for maternal services. The thief’s baby tested positive for drugs, and since the name on the birth certificate was “Anndorie Cromar,” police and Child Protective Services descended quickly on the wrong person.

The mix-up was eventually sorted out, but not without money, frustration, and what turned out to be the scare of Cromar’s life.

Blockchain technology can mitigate some of the issues — the patient can have an encrypted ID vault on the block, one that the provider can use to make sure that the person standing in front of them is the real policyholder (or the policy holder’s authorized dependents or partner). This ID vault could contain a picture, all ID paperwork, and even biometric data depending on consent and regulations.

Then, the clinician need only check the data against the patient in front of them to prevent most forms of health insurance fraud. They don’t even need to be sitting at a computer — they could grab a nearby medical tablet and pull up the data then and there.

Tracking Drugs and Eliminating Counterfeits

The nature of blockchain’s distributed ledger is a perfect match for inventory and drug-tracking all throughout the supply chain.

The “Drug Supply Chain Security” act, established in 2013, mandates electronic drug tracking in the United States. A secure solution like blockchain is practically custom-built for verifying drug transactions, authenticating barcodes, and keeping every step of the shipping and use chain fully recorded and protected from illegal tampering.

Medical computers with integrated barcode scanners streamline the process. If you already have a USB-powered barcode scanner, medical panel PCs are capable of powering those peripherals on their own, just from the built-in batteries of the PC itself.

Those same medical PCs can also come with built-in two-factor authentication, making them compatible with the SUPPORT bill and a vital tool in combating the opioid crisis.

Combining Blockchain and Healthcare

Blockchain isn’t a perfect panacea to cure all data security problems forever, but its secure, incorruptible nature (combined with staff education and good network hygiene) makes it an excellent solution to many of healthcare’s current data-handling issues.

To learn more about integrating blockchain with EMR and secure medical computers, contact Cybernet today.

improve asset tracking

How to Streamline Asset Tracking with Industrial Grade Tablets

Whether you’ve never fully embraced asset tracking, are looking for a new method, or just want to save on paper, it’s time to look into a digital asset tracking system for the most important equipment in your facility.

Asset tracking is different from inventory tracking, though they are commonly confused. Inventory tracking is the tagging and cataloging of the products moving in and out of your warehouse for sale. Asset tracking, on the other hand, is about keeping tabs on the machines, tools, and vehicles that allow your business to keep running.

But how can an industrial grade tablet make all of this possible? And, most importantly, how necessary is asset tracking?

Why Do I Need Asset Tracking?

Asset tracking is, in some ways, more important than inventory tracking — a missed product can be an inconvenience, a cost-of-doing-business bit of shrinkage. A missing propane tank, pallet jack, or welding machine — or the breakdown of a forklift that hasn’t had regular maintenance tracking — can bring operations to a complete standstill.

A system of RFID asset tracking tags, barcodes, and industrial tablets PCs can track equipment from the moment it arrives and gets deployed, to cleaning and maintenance, up to its final retirement and replacement.

Regular asset tracking reduces theft and increases safety — when equipment is proven to be regularly serviced, there’s less chance of the kind of sudden breakdowns that could endanger staff members near (or using) the machines.

Asset tracking also improves hazardous material handling, ensuring that all waste materials, biohazards, radioactive elements, or dangerous fuels and chemicals are always stored in the proper place (and for the correct amount of time between inspections).

RFID Tagged Tracking for Vital Assets

RFID tags are small plastic cases that contain a tiny computer chip and radio antenna. They use radio frequency and a unique, individual bit of programming to store data about the asset: type of equipment, location, maintenance schedule, age, use hours, and more.

Then, a worker with an industrial grade tablet containing a built-in RFID reader can scan assets whenever they use them, are looking to clean or maintain them, or are simply trying to find the right tool for the job at hand.

When to Use RFID Tags

Big equipment like trucks, forklifts, sweepers, mowers, pallet jacks, and the like — especially particularly mobile equipment — are great candidates for RFID tagging. They’re expensive, they’re vital, and they often require regular maintenance, three things RFID tagging is best at.

RFID tags can be used to create a check-in/check-out system for important tools, a system that records when tools were taken from storage. With individual worker IDs, the system could even record who took the tool, how long they used it, and when they brought it back.

Agriculture uses RFID tags to track and label livestock, while research labs use those same tags to keep an eye on lab animals like monkeys and guinea pigs. When a vital component of your operation has four legs and a mind of its own, that’s a smart thing to keep tabs on it.

When Not to Use RFID Tags

RFID tracking isn’t perfect for every piece of equipment, or for every situation. Naturally, radio interference can affect the scanning process. Most background radio won’t be a problem, but if your business involves a lot of EM interference it could present a problem.

RFID tags are also more expensive than barcodes, so it isn’t wise to slap one on every wrench and trash can in the facility. Instead, stick to using RFID tags for vital equipment, and gear with a value that far exceeds the cost to tag it. A lower threshold of around $300-$500 might be a good starting place for RFID tagging.

Another pitfall to watch out for — if RFID-tracked equipment is stored in very close proximity, it may be difficult for the industrial tablet to get a solid, accurate read. If the items are stored close enough, it’s possible to accidentally grab the next item over. For most uses — big machines, vehicles — this doesn’t really come up, but it’s still an important tip to remember.  

Barcodes for Asset Tracking

Barcodes were invented over 60 years ago, but are still the most popular form of digital identification for objects in the world. It’s not hard to see why – they’re cheap, they can hold a lot of information, and they’re totally universal.

Barcodes are useful for inventory, but they can also make asset tracking much simpler.

When To Use Barcodes

When it comes to asset tracking, barcodes are perfect for smaller or less expensive items.

Slapping a barcode on all of your frequently-used tools and storing them next to an industrial PC with an integrated barcode scanner is a great way to have employees check the tools in and out. The worker uses the industrial PC to log in, grabs the tool or tools they need, scans with the same computer, and goes to work. This process would then repeat when they went to lunch or left for the day, checking those same tools back in again when they clocked out.

A process like this not only helps to minimize theft, but it also keeps track of use-hours for each individual tool, which can aid in maintenance, cleaning, and replacement schedules.

There could even be a cleaning, oiling, or maintenance area for the tools, and the tool’s barcode is scanned afterward to create a maintenance log.

Consider using barcodes for replacement parts. Spare tires, filters, gaskets, blades, drill bits — barcodes can be slapped on all of these items so the company knows exactly how many replacements they have and when its time to order more. This is doubly important for when replacement parts for a particular machine or piece of equipment are custom, expensive, or take a long time for delivery.

Barcodes can also help eliminate some of the loss typically associated with incidentals like returnable packaging. Racks, reusable pallets, large containers, drums, sleeves, and other forms of returnable packaging don’t always come back, and it can be impossible to figure out where they went without some kind of tracking solution. Barcodes are quick and cheap, so if the item in question does get lost the company isn’t out the price of an RFID tag (or the price of several).

But, the barcode (when scanned as it leaves the facility) can point the company to where the pallet or gas cylinder was sent and subsequently never returned.

When Not to Use Barcodes

We’ve already discussed why RFID tags are better for larger, more expensive equipment. However, that isn’t the sole benefit.

Barcodes require a physical line-of-sight between the barcode and the scanner on the staff member’s industrial tablet (or other barcode scanner). If the item in question is something like a crate, box, or other bit of packaging that is ever flipped on its side or turned around, that could present a problem. A barcode on the top of a crate that’s been stacked three high isn’t helpful. In these cases, an RFID tag would be far superior.

Barcodes can also be easily damaged. Placing a barcode on a wrench and then tossing it into a bucket of other tools could easily scratch the barcode off. A pallet that’s being constantly grabbed by a forklift could lose its barcode, as could any item with a paper barcode that is stored outside during inclement weather.

Barcodes also require good lighting to read, which is not always available in a storage room in the corner of a warehouse.

Do You Know Where Your Assets Are?

Did you know that 55% of small businesses don’t track assets at all? Or, if they do, they’re still using a manual pen-and-paper method? Researchers have also discovered that up to 65% of the asset data that is being tracked is either inaccurate, incomplete, or entirely missing.

They even estimated that 10% to 30% of the assets that do show up on the report are no longer even owned. There are called “ghost assets,” and they can be a massive drain on any company.

Keep your budgets accurate, your replacement parts accounted for, and every piece of vital equipment properly maintained on a regular schedule.

Contact Cybernet today to learn more about the industrial grade tablets and industrial computers that can integrate all of your tracking needs into one tidy package.

 

4 Tips to Manage This Year’s Flu Season

As every winter, the annual flu season — and the subsequent flu season panic — is upon us.

While the flu can be uncomfortable at best and downright deadly at worst, there is good news: 2018/2019’s outbreak is turning out to be much milder than last year’s devastating season.

The other good news is that medical techniques, and medical technology, have never been more prepared for it. From heightened awareness and public education to better medication and bacteria-resistant medical computers, the flu has a formidable foe this year.

1. Don’t Panic: the Numbers Are Down

Make no mistake — the flu can be extremely dangerous, and will cause fatalities throughout the country. The elderly and the very young are in the most danger, which is why it’s advised that those groups especially get a flu vaccination.

For the 2017/2018 flu season, deaths from flu topped 80,000, a tragic record. Last season had the highest number of fatalities and hospitalizations in the last ten years. This year is already looking milder, with deaths from flu and pneumonia far below the usual range this season, according to the CDC.

This doesn’t mean there should be no concern —  as we approach the peak of the season, infections will increase, as will hospitalizations. And, the flu season can sometimes last all the way into March, giving plenty of time for conditions to change.

But, clinicians like Dr. Stephen Schneckel, VP of Population Health Quality in Iowa report that they’re “not seeing as many cases as we did last year.”

2. Visit Up-To-Date Clinics with the Newest Technology

Sneezing into your elbow and using lots of hand sanitizer is still a great idea, but luckily medical computers and other technology found in hospitals and doctor’s offices are also helping to battle influenza.

Modern offices have medical computers made with antimicrobial plastic that kill bacteria on contact. Since computers are such a hotspot of use (and thus, passing bacteria from hand to hand), these advances are extremely helpful in reducing infections of all kinds for staff and patient alike.

Fanless medical computers are also being used in offices and hospitals to combat the spread of germs. Computers typically require a fan to keep internal components cool. While this keeps the computer operational, the fan spread germs and bacteria through the air. Fanless cooling technology eliminates this type of air circulation, mitigating the risk of airborne infection.  

These medical computers are also be sealed for liquid and particle intrusion (IP65 rating), meaning they can be frequently sprayed down and scrubbed with disinfectant to stop any viruses or bacteria from lingering on the surface.

The modern, fully-updated doctor’s office or hospital with this kind of technology is going to be a far safer place to visit because of these germ-fighting innovations. 

3. Don’t Wait: Flu Shots Are Everywhere

Vaccines have proven incredibly potent against influenza. This year, doctors and specialists are reporting that the shot may be particularly effective. Richard Webby at the CDC says that the current shot can reduce the risk of having to seek medical care for flu “by 40%.”

The vaccine that’s been prepared this year matches (and thus targets) the most common strain of H1N1 that’s been going around this season, a fortunate break that puts the shot at maximum efficacy. Vaccines are, in a way, a kind of guess. It’s impossible to inject a vaccine for every possible strain of the flu into every single person, so doctors and experts make an educated guess — backed by observation and statistics — as to which strains will prove the most harmful or the most virulent. These vaccines are then given to the public.

A vaccine isn’t a bullet-proof vest, but it can help reduce the worst of the inherent risk.

Luckily, flu shots are more readily available now then they’ve ever been. Beyond doctor’s offices and hospitals, there are drug stores, colleges, employers, and even grocery stores that host doctors and other clinicians to administer the shot.

Innovations in the shot itself have also been spreading. Many clinics are offering the LAIV (live-attenuated influenza vaccine), a nasal spray that takes the place of the flu shot for those unable to get the regular injection.

Mobile medical clinics are also making the rounds in metropolitan areas. These mobile clinics are usually fully equipped — you can enter your information in a medical tablet or mounted panel PC, get the shot, and then be on your merry way with one more concern off your plate.

4. Stay as Isolated As You Can

You don’t have to pack up your things and move to a Tibetan mountaintop or anything, but there are wise precautions to take to limit your exposure to the virus.

At work or school, during flu season, avoid using anyone else’s phone, computer, stapler, etc. Any frequently-handled item is going to be a danger zone, so stick to your own gear.

Borrowing or browsing someone else’s cell phone in particular should be avoided at all costs, and you should clean your own phone as often as you can: a study by the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at the University of Arizona found that the average cell phone has “10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats.”

And, lastly, if you are sick don’t go to work. Don’t go to school. Don’t visit with your grandparents. Take care of yourself as best as you can, open up the windows to get some fresh air (weather permitting), and allow yourself to convalesce. If you’re worried about losing productivity, remember that making the whole office or classroom sick is about as productivity-crushing as burning the building down.

It’s Not Too Late to Get a Vaccine

Yes, the flu seasons is already upon us, and yes the vaccine can take a week or two to kick in. However, “flu season” is the name of a yearly trend, it’s not a locked closet that the flu can’t escape.

There’s plenty of flu season left, and there are plenty of folks who come down with the flu outside of the season. And even if you do end up getting infected after receiving the shot, the length and severity of the illness may be greatly decreased because of the vaccine.

With fully-stocked mobile clinics and easy-to-clean medical computers, it’s never been easier or more effective to get a flu shot and ride out the rest of the year in peace.

Contact Cybernet to learn more about deploying medical computers and tablets with antimicrobial housings and fanless cooling systems to fight infection.

 

How Technology Prevents HIPAA Violations

HIPAA violations are growing in number and cost, and have affected medical facilities of all sizes.

While training and vigilance on the part of administrators and staff is a vital component to HIPAA compliance, the right technology can turn an open book into a bank vault. From secure medical grade all-in-one computers to software to online tools, here are some of the best ways technology is making ePHI (electronic protected health information) more secure.

HIPAA violations and costly fines don’t have to be an inevitability.

How Bad is It?

HIPAA violations and fines are practically raining from the sky. 2018 saw significant data breaches, some that affected millions of patients.

In January of 2018, it was revealed that the data of 30,000 patients was stolen by hackers from Florida Medicaid when an employee fell for a phishing email.

Also in January, a medical group in New York had a record breach that had nothing to do with malicious intent. A misconfigured database with an unsecured port accidentally exposed the data of 42,000 people to anyone who stumbled across it. Social security numbers, patient notes, and even names of family members were all up for grabs.

In April, the Center of Orthopaedic Specialists in California got hit by ransomware that may have exposed 85,000 patient records to hackers. In September, three hospitals settled a $1 million dollar fine for potentially compromising patient privacy while they were filming a documentary for ABC.

And, of course, Anthem paid a record-breaking $16 million in fines and violation settlements for a breach that affected 79 million patients. They were given a hefty penalty for not only the breach itself, but for failing to implement adequate access controls, not conducting a risk analysis before it happened, and for not regularly reviewing system activity to keep an eye on red flags.

Almost all of these breaches could have been prevented or mitigated by better technology, more robust security software, and improved employee education.

Online Training Programs Can Educate Staff Members

Hacking is a multi-headed hydra that is more than just ransomware and worms. “Social engineering” describes all of the methods deployed by hackers to gain access to secure systems from regular people in an organization.

Social engineering tactics can vary wildly, from dressing like an electrician to get access to a sensitive area, to calling up an employee and pretending to be an IT tech who needs their information, or even just employing a malware program that requires a victim to click, open, download, or install something they shouldn’t have.

Consider enrolling staff members into an online HIPAA compliance course, or a general data security training program. If you’re afraid of employees falling asleep during a dry infosec video, try SecurED, a data security training course that was actually written in part by Hollywood comedy writers.

And if you want the real skinny from an expert, world-famous hacker Kevin Mitnick actually created his own security awareness training to help illuminate the best techniques for avoiding malicious software and social engineering.

Install Security Software on All Devices

Cloud storage attached to medical all-in-one computers, medical tablets, and personal devices must be encrypted. Any messages, data, or images that back up to a cloud service are just as susceptible to interception as messages sent from one user to another.

Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive aren’t automatically encrypted, and expose a weak point in any system. The solution isn’t to stop using cloud services — backing up data has never been more important — but to instead use a secure cloud storage program like Sookasa to encrypt files before they enter a cloud storage folder.

It also may be wise to consider HIPAA compliance tracking software like HIPAATrek. This software, and other brands like it, create a one-stop-shop for all current HIPAA regulations, training, assessments, risk analysis surveys, checklists, and a whole host of compliance tools to keep any medical facility in the green and out of the fast-growing list of HIPAA horror stories.

Secure Accounts with Two-Factor Authentication

A single password and login for staff members aren’t sufficient for sensitive accounts. Passwords can be guessed, cracked, or collected fairly easily, especially if employees aren’t maintaining proper password etiquette.

Two-factor authentication is recommended by all security professionals at this point, and a failure to do so could have dire consequences for any organization under HIPAA authority.

Smart cards, custom RFID tags, and biometric scanners can provide the physical authentication, while a PIN or password can be used in conjunction to add an extra layer of security. Medical all-in-one computers or medical tablets with built-in RFID and biometric scanners are highly recommended for this purpose because they are far more reliable than a USB scanner plugged into an off-the-shelf office computer.

Plus, USB readers are portable and have a tendency to get lost or disappear. Misplacing an integrated medical panel PC is slightly more difficult.

Only Use Messaging Software with HIPAA Associate Agreements

Texting and easy picture-sharing have completely changed the way our society communicates, even in the workplace.

However, HIPAA’s security standards mean that doctors and nurses can’t be as free as the general populace. While texting a coworker a question might seem innocuous, it can lead to breached confidentiality and a hefty fine if it contains patient details. Ditto for sending pictures — getting a second opinion from another nurse about a suppurating wound isn’t a bad idea in theory, but may, in fact, be a violation of HIPAA standards.

For workplace communication, make sure work devices are installed with encrypted messaging software from a HIPAA associate. If your practice is using a BYOD policy, make sure those devices have the same level of encryption. Or, it may be a wise idea to abandon a BYOD policy altogether — they’ve been shown to invite massive security breaches.

A messaging app made by a business under a HIPAA associate agreement is certified to provide the necessary security to meet HIPAA standards.

There are quite a few HIPAA compliant texting apps, like TigerConnect and OhMD, that can make a major difference in cybersecurity. Many of these apps, or similar email encryption programs (like Barracuda or Virtru ) can also be installed on medical tablets and medical all-in-one computers, creating an easy, encrypted communication system for any facility.

Don’t Forget the Real World

Consider those hospitals fined for filming a documentary — not all patient confidentiality breaches come from computer hackers.

Even something as simple as the placement of a computer screen or patient monitor can have HIPAA implications. Medical all-in-one computers with built-in privacy screens can reduce the angle where a monitor is readable, while a computer on wheels can be rotated away from prying eyes.

Cameras and video recording are obviously off-limits, but sometimes staff can be tempted by the social media machine in their pocket. A perfectly harmless photo from the wrong angle can unknowingly capture sensitive information on a chart, or the face of a patient in the background.

Of course, a malicious low-tech data thief could also snap a quick picture of sensitive information while a doctor’s back is turned.

Technology can help, of course, but common sense is even more important. Keep an eye on your surroundings, especially when viewing ePHI, to maintain maximum data security.

Employ and Document Digital Security Methods Today

A three-pronged approach of education, technology, and vigilance should hopefully keep any doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic away from major HIPAA violations. Even should a lax staff member cause a breach, a thorough and documented history of implementing all of these techniques should also lower the culpability and any potential fines for the organization.

Contact Cybernet today to learn more about medical all-in-one computers and medical tablets with built-in two-factor authentication, Imprivata single-sign-on compatibility, and built-in privacy screens.