Tag Archives: medical computers

Ransomware Healthcare

4 Steps for Fighting Ransomware in Healthcare

Malware is bad news for any venture, but healthcare seems particularly vulnerable.

Due to air-tight HIPAA regulations, a data breach or data loss by a healthcare facility costs more than just the ransom or the price of restoration. The fines for HIPAA breaches, just on their own, have been rising in price every year.

Studies from Cybersecurity Ventures show that the damage caused by ransomware was estimated at $8 billion in 2018. So how does a healthcare group or facility fight this rising tide? How can a hospital protect its medical computers systems, patient data, and bottom line?

What is Ransomware?

When a virus infects a computer system and makes either the whole system or just a part of it inaccessible, that’s ransomware.

The malicious software does this by essentially encrypting a portion of the victim’s hard drive so that it becomes inaccessible to the original user. Ransomware, true to the name, usually includes a message that the malware will hold the computer or data hostage until they’ve been paid a certain sum of cash (or, more accurately, bitcoin).

A variation of the practice is sometimes called “leakware,” where instead of locking away your files and selling them back to you, the program steals sensitive information and demands money in exchange for not releasing the data out into the world.

1. Limit Exposure to Ransomware

Step 1 of fighting ransomware is to not get infected by it. Sounds easy, of course, but the internet is a minefield of malware that brooks not the slightest slip in security.

In that case, the real step 1 of limiting exposure is training healthcare employees on how to handle emails. It seems a silly thing, but a doctor, nurse, or receptionist clicking the wrong email could compromise not only their PC, but every EMR computer, medical tablet, mobile device, and internet-connected device in the entire building (or further).

The “State of the Phish,” an annual report published by Proofpoint Security, found that in 2017, over 75% percent of organizations had been targeted by email phishing attacks. Phishing is the act of sending a seemingly-legitimate email from a business partner, bank, or other organization, in an attempt to trick employees into giving up personal information of their own volition. It doesn’t require an ounce of malicious software, just a clever hacker and an untrained employee.

Clinicians must be warned about proper email etiquette. Never open an attachment, if you can help it. Consider sharing files and PDFs through the proper encrypted cloud service instead. If you must open an attachment, only do so from a trusted source, and make sure you have an anti-virus program scan any downloaded files before opening them.

Also, Hackers can break into email accounts, and even spoof email addresses to appear to be someone they aren’t. If an email with an attachment from a trusted source feels suspect, it may be wise to call or text the individual who sent it to confirm that they really did.

2. Regulate Access to Medical Computer Systems

Once employees are trained we move on to step 2: limiting access to medical computers, file systems, and EMR programs by untrained individuals. If a section of hospital staff hasn’t been trained on these procedures, and in fact shouldn’t be accessing the medical computers in the first place, a strong security policy on computer access could further prevent damage from ransomware. It also lowers any potential HIPAA violations the hospital would otherwise be courting.

Passwords alone are seldom enough — they’re often broken, given away, or written down somewhere. Instead, make sure that all medical cart computers, tablets, and medical PCs on the network are locked down with two-factor authentication. Consider all-in-one medical PCs that come with RFID, Smart Card, and barcode readers built right into them to maximize security while minimizing unnecessary and cluttery peripherals.

3. Prevent the Spread of Ransomware

The third step for hospital administrators and HIT to take is to create a system where the spread of malware is much more difficult. That way, if one computer is infected with ransomware, it can’t necessarily grab everything on the entire network.  

Instead of a single network with a hard outer shell (ie, the firewall or other exterior security measures) and an entirely unprotected internal structure, a segmented network splits everything into many individual networks that have their own security measures.

Imagine the fire doors in a hospital, hotel, or large apartment building — in the event of a fire in the building, the fire doors seal automatically to contain the blaze to the smallest area it can. A segmented medical computer network performs the same function.

Most healthcare facilities (and other industries) put all of their connected gear on the same network — it’s much easier to manage for IT. However, do the computers in the billing department really need to be on the same network as the cart computers in the ICU or the medical tablets in the maternity ward?

Instead, considering separating all of the departments into their own separate networks to prevent any one room fire from burning down the whole building, so to speak. It’s a bit more work for IT, but it could pay huge dividends in the long run.

4. Restore Data After a Ransomware Attack

This is the step no one wants to think about, but the fact remains, sometimes the hackers get through. Sometimes ransomware can infect even the most secure network — all it takes is one clinician downloading something from the wrong site or opening the wrong email.

In the case of a successful attack, much of the damage caused by ransomware can be mitigated by a strong backup strategy. In the case of “leakware,” where sensitive information is stolen and threatened with public release, an encrypted cloud backup isn’t going to do much good. But in most ransomware cases, where the data is made inaccessible, a strong, redundant back-up policy may allow your HIT department a quick escape hatch.

Instead of trying to break the malware, figure out the encryption key, or paying the ransom, the IT department can simply nuke the affected medical computers right to the ground and then reimage them in minutes. Then, once the computer is verified clean and the operating system reinstalled, they can simply access the backup storage and return the computer to its old fighting weight.

Beating Ransomware Before the Fight Even Starts

To paraphrase an old saying, the best time to create a comprehensive ransomware strategy is yesterday. The second best time is right now.

Interested in increasing the security of your medical computer systems, and learning about medical computers and tablet that come with integrated security features like biometric scanners and RFID? Contact Cybernet today to learn more.

Healthcare Interoperability

A Beginner’s Guide to Healthcare Interoperability

There’s no denying that the newest trend in healthcare is the idea of “interoperability.” It’s the headline of every news story, and it’s on everyone’s lips coming out of HIMSS. But, it’s easy to gloss over it, to think of it as a new way to say “synergy” or “Big Data.”

What is Healthcare Interoperability?

However, the truth is interoperability is more than just the newest jargon — it’s another way to say “communication.” And as all healthcare clinicians know, communication is the most important element of treatment. The communication between the patient and the doctor, the communication between nurses and doctors changing shifts, and the communication between the various healthcare providers.

So, when the smartest folks in the healthcare industry push the importance of interoperability, what they’re really talking about is a way for patients’ records to be more accurate, more compatible, and more easily accessible.

But how can healthcare providers, hospitals, and doctor’s offices implement interoperability?

Find out how artificial intelligence, legislation, medical computers, and policy changes can all cooperate to create a more transparent (and cheaper) data sharing system.

Unifying the Health Record

You may have been told in high school that something is in danger of going “on your permanent record.” Well, as it turns out, there is no permanent record. Not for copying your friend’s homework, and not for medical records, either.

Each time the third nurse you’ve seen during a single visit has asked you for the fifth time if you’re allergic to anything, you know that EMRs need a serious overhaul. Luckily, there are systems in place to do just that.

Option 1: Embracing the blockchain. Combining one buzz word with another may sound worrisome, but blockchain can actually be a great potential road towards interoperability. What’s the main hurdle of interoperability? HIPAA regulations, and the very real fear that a patient’s digital file could be swiped or cracked by malicious parties during a transfer.

One of the main issues is that many health record files are stored in “read-only” formats to prevent tampering. However, read-only formats don’t play well with databases that needed to access the original file and pull categories out. This is done for protection, but it also creates format wars AND sucks a ton of time from admin, who has to transfer many of the data fields manually.

Blockchain, on the other hand, uses a distributed ledger, spread across multiple locations, to ensure that patient records cannot be accessed or altered by anyone but those authorized to do so. The data doesn’t have to be stored in “read-only,” because every attempt at tampering is foiled by blockchain’s tracking system. The data is encrypted, and even if somehow a malicious actor was able to break in, the entire system would register that the copies on every other computer connected to the blockchain don’t have the changes, registering the transaction as both fraudulent and easily traceable.

Change Healthcare has already implemented a blockchain network designed to streamline hospital processes with the ultimate goal being a “single point of truth.”

The “single point of truth” is really just another way of saying interoperability: if everyone is pulling patient data from ONE location, there’s no need for an array of conflicting file formats and record systems.

Option 2: Using open APIs. This is more on the programmer side of things, but if you’re trying to understand how to implement interoperability better, it’s good to know what you’re looking for.

An API is an “application programming interface,” and an open API is one that is designed from the ground up to facilitate sharing. It means that the processes underpinning a program (or app) are modular, and can share an abstracted version of the data. What this means in layman’s terms is that the open-API program can still share data with other programs without “giving up its secrets,” or releasing proprietary code to an outside source.

The idea is to combine accessibility with security, another key feature of any interoperability campaign. When shopping around for EMR programs, an open API should be high up on the list of priorities.

What is Healthcare Electronic Data Interchange?

Electronic Data Interchange, often abbreviated as “EDI,” defines a set of standards, technologies, file formats, and transmissions methods for moving sensitive data from one point to another.

Healthcare EDI is referring to those methods used specifically for transfers like medical records, payments, medication information, and the like from one EMR computer, medical tablet, or even mobile phone to another. Healthcare EDI must conform to HIPAA standards, of course,

Adhering to EDI standards has proven benefits. For one, security is increased, because the EDI standards are tried-and-true, and conform to HIPAA codes. Secondly, processing documents is ultimately cheaper: studies have shown that healthcare facilities saved anywhere from $1 to $2 dollars per claim just by switching to EDI. That may not seem like a lot at first blush, but considering the thousands of claims and documents pouring through the healthcare industry at any given time, the savings are quite significant.

The last benefit is to (surprise) interoperability. EDI sets a standard, and the more healthcare providers and facilities follow those standards, the more, well, standard they become. When everyone is on the same page, the book isn’t terribly hard to read.

According to Markets and Markets, the EDI market value will increase by over 1 billion dollars by 2022. This massive market penetration should have enormous benefit to any attempts at standardization as well.

Breaking Down Interoperability

When it comes to understanding and implementing interoperability, remember the key ingredients:

  • Hardware standardization: Avoid the format wars. Install long-lasting, compatible medical PCs and medical cart computers that can talk to each other.
  • EDI: Make sure your file formats and transmissions standards all fit the EDI recommendations.
  • Blockchain: Look into distributed ledgers to maximize security and accountability.
  • Open API: Invest in programs that are designed to be compatible and future-proof.

These are just a few of the starting places, so contact Cybernet today to learn more about medical hardware, compatibility, and EMR solutions.

AI Healthcare

Is Your Hospital Ready for the Future of AI?

Leaps in computing power, programming abilities, and the web of interconnected devices has created a boom in artificial intelligence.

A.I. will undoubtedly improve, disrupt, and alter every industry in the world, but it’s in healthcare that it could make the strongest impact. Artificial intelligence could one day be the ultimate medicine — if knowledge is power, then infinite, bespoke knowledge on any medical condition or patient could provide clinicians with their greatest tools yet.

With medical tablets and medical computers providing the necessary digital infrastructure, the following advances in AI might be deployable very soon in healthcare facilities around the globe.

The American AI Initiative Moves Forward

On February 12th, the “American AI Initiative” executive order was signed, with the intent to foster and improve the development of artificial intelligence in the United States. It serves to outline the country’s AI policy going forward, showing a commitment to further development of the technology and law that could have an enormous impact on healthcare technology.

Obviously, the idea is to spur innovation and funding in all areas of AI, but considering how poised the healthcare industry already is to take advantage of this area of technology, the signing of this order could have an enormous impact on hospitals in the near future.

The executive order is separated into five pillars: funding, government resources, international engagement, standardization, and automation.

The funding aid is obvious — innovation doesn’t happen without dedicated cash flows. The “government resources” pillar allows researchers to make use of federal data to help their experiments, while the “international engagement” pillar pushes for cooperation between the US and other nations who are also heavily involved in the development of AI. The “standardization” pillar is of particular use to healthcare and medical computers, because it doubles down on ensuring that ALL companies and developers will be able to interconnect their systems to everyone’s benefit.

With the assortment of EHR systems, medical computer systems, and even hospital-specific programs that are in use, a “one standard to rule them all” could prevent another Apple vs. PC format war that would only end up hurting hospitals and consumers.

Aiding the Visually Impaired

The data gathered and processed by AI is already being used to help blind and visually impaired people.

It began with apps like NavCog, which used Bluetooth beacons scattered around an indoor space to allow a blind person to navigate with the help of their phone. While it can (and is used) for homes, the system has also been deployed in places like hotels and hospitals to assist the visually impaired.

The next generation of the technology, however, involves the use of a suitcase-like device that leverages artificial intelligence and laser-navigation lidar to create a real-time picture of the immediate environment. This “suitcase AI” could then relay that information, and help guide the user through audio cues.

Amazon, Google, and many other tech giants are already jumping into this same field, developing apps, programs, and hardware that could be of great use to not only the impaired, but to healthcare or elderly facilities as well.

AI Chatbots Helping Patients and Doctors

The importance of patient engagement and telehealth are well known at this point, but perhaps what isn’t as widespread is the idea that medical computers, and specifically A.I., just may be the key to pulling it off. All of healthcare is understaffed, which is why a little help from computers could be just what the doctor ordered.

Chatbots like Babylon Health almost function as full-fledged telehealth options in their own right. The AI chatbot uses a database of medical information and, when compared against the patient’s medical history and symptoms, can help a patient do the preliminary research on any medical complaints before they see a doctor. With text or voice chat support, patients can simply tell the chatbot their symptoms and get a relatively accurate solution. It won’t replace the hospital, but it’s a wonderful starting place for any patient — and saves the Urgent Care lobby from looking like Woodstock.

For older, forgetful, or simply busy patients, consider pointing them toward “Florence,” a personal AI nurse. Florence can remind patients to take their medicine (at whatever interval is desired), and can help track weight loss, menstrual cycles, and even mood and mental health.

A chatbot like “Safedrugbot” is actually for clinicians, a quick app/chat message service that allows doctors to ask about what drugs are safe to use for breastfeeding mothers. It even includes information about alternate medications.

These interactive AI are only the first step in augmenting patient care and battling healthcare understaffing.

AI to Help Detect Cancer

The combination of medical computers and AI to detect cancer could be a gamechanger for healthcare facilities across the globe.

A study by the University of Surrey and the University of California tested the use of AI networks and their efficacy in not only analyzing cancer symptoms from patient records, but also in using that data to identify cancer symptoms in patients that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

The idea is that the AI is constantly using a stream of live data from all connected hospitals and research centers, so its database is always improving. This information comes from a host of devices and locations — it combines demographics information, doctor notes on their medical computers, test results, lab images, examinations, Internet of Medical Things devices, medical surveys, study data, and any and all available recordings.

The AI then uses this information to create a kind of map of cancer symptoms. For instance, with access to such a firehose of information, the AI can use determinators like age, gender, location, previous medical history, genetics, and combine it with any known risk factors and symptoms. The AI can then compare all the data for that individual patient against ALL patients, everywhere, to determine the likelihood that the patient in question may have cancer, what kind of cancer, and how best to treat it.

Though this kind of AI network is still in testing, it could provide unprecedented levels of aid for diagnosticians, helping to catch cancer long before a test would normally be ordered.

It could even look at a patient’s risk factors and determine that they may just be at a high risk of cancer in the future, which could aid doctors in creating a plan to prevent that diagnosis in the future.

Paving the Way for AI

Artificial intelligence is already on the way, and could provide a quantum leap forward in diagnosis, patient engagement, and accessibility. However, AI definitely can’t do any of that on out-of-date or consumer-level technology.

Contact Cybernet today to learn about how long-lasting medical computers can survive and thrive in the brutal environment of a hospital, and how they can future-proof any healthcare facility for the bevy of technological changes that are on their way.

Elderly Care Technology

Improving Elderly Care with the Latest Medical Technology

Improving elderly care isn’t just about helping older folks now — it’s about looking into the future, at the kind of needs an increasing elderly population will need down the line.

Luckily, medical technology, medical computers, and interconnectivity are experiencing an unprecedented level of growth and development right now.

How can technology improve the lifespans, mobility, and quality of life for people over 65? How can we predict their needs for the next 50 or even 100 years? What changes can we make to ensure that these developments are working and deployed when the time comes?

The Bad News First

Before we can dig into the right solutions, it’s vital we examine the unique problems coming down the pipe for both society and elder care.

According to a study published in Health Affairs, by the year 2030, the elderly population (those defined as 65+) is expected to double in size. The current infrastructure for elder care is hardly ideal, and it definitely isn’t ready for a 100% increase in load.

Secondly, and perhaps most shockingly, younger people today are generally less healthy in certain arenas than previous generations. Disabilities, diabetes, and obesity have all increased dramatically in the youth demographic. This is not only bad news on its own, but it means that the future burden on the elder care system will be proportionately increased.

So it’s not simply a numbers problem, though, yes, there will be more people over 65+ in 2030. It’s also the fact that there’s a good chance those elderly patients will require more aid due to a lifetime of complications from increased risk factors like diabetes and obesity.

The problem becomes two-fold, which is what the solutions must address. These technological solutions for elder care issues must help with understaffing, a larger patient population, insufficient infrastructure, and the complications of life-long health issues.

Remote Doctor Visits and Telehealth Solutions

The elderly are simply not as mobile as other patients. Unfortunately, they also require more medical attention than other patients. It’s in this contradiction that so many medical problems occur.

The elderly are also more likely to fall, and to injure themselves more severely when they do. The CDC estimates that almost 3 million elderly adults are injured in falls, with 27,000 leading to death.

Add in the risk of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections, and we realize that even going to the hospital for routine work can be a danger for some elderly patients.

Telehealth is already being adopted in many elder care facilities, nursing homes, and rural areas where transportation is even more difficult. A provider with a strong telehealth policy can transform patient care for hundreds of miles. When a doctor can just pick up a medical tabletto perform a video-streamed remote exam on an elderly patient, it saves everyone time and money.

A doctor can combine these video-streamed exams with wearables like smart watches, clothing sensors, and fully-integrated smart homes to get incredibly detailed biometric data on the patient.

What’s a smart home, you ask?

What is a Smart Home, and How Can it Affect Elder Care?

Tied into the idea of telehealth is the idea that the home, be it an independent apartment or an elder care facility, can be seeded with tech that can make the elderly happier, healthier, and less at risk.

The idea of the smart homes, where healthcare is concerned, is the creation of a safe monitoring space for the patient using modern “internet of things” devices. These devices, usually wearables, can help monitor the patient’s blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, location, and a dozen other metrics even from the comfort of their own homes.

This information is then piped to a medical touchscreen computer, where doctors and other clinicians can be alerted to any sudden changes. This means that the elderly can get the same or similar level of monitoring without having to stay in a hospital bed. This not only saves the hospital time and money, but it ensures that an elderly person can convalesce in a comfortable environment that won’t drain their health insurance resources.

Aside from remote health monitoring, a smart home can also be set up to help the elderly on their daily self-care journey. Digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, Bixby, or other more medical-focused apps can be used to give loud, vocal reminders to the patient when it’s time to take a pill, change a bandage, charge an important monitoring device, or even to eat or drink water.

A “smart pillbox” can fill a similar role – it’s an internet connected pillbox that can send a text to a patient’s phone or personal assistant (like an Alexa speaker) to remind the user to take their pill at the correct time. Some even come with bright lights that flash when it’s time to take medication.

These small, useful features can ensure that the elderly spend more time healthy and at home, and less time in the hospital.

Using AI Data to Prevent Falls

We mentioned earlier that the elderly are more prone to falls, and those falls end up being more serious due to a variety of issues.

However, companies like Qventus have begun using artificial intelligence to reduce the chance of falls, both at home and in the hospital. The first trial run of the system, performed in Mountain View, CA, lowered the amount of falls in-hospital by almost 40%. Since their initial trial, similar numbers have popped up whenever the system was implemented.

How it works: their AI program gathers data from the entire country on falls, fall risks, and combines them with machine learning to discover what devices and policies do and don’t work to prevent falls, and how effective they are. This data comes from a variety of sources, including national fall data, patient histories, and hospital EMR. It even cross-references the patient’s medication with all of this information — does a certain medication increase dizziness, or create a sense of vertigo, or weaken muscle control? This data is then factored into the fall equation in the kind of granular way only a machine can pull off.

These AI systems can then send alerts to the nearest medical tablet or cart computer, letting nurses and doctors know, in real time, if a patient is a fall risk. Since the AI is calculating this in real time, 24/7, and is using live data to do so, it can even calculate when a previously non-risk patient might have recently become a risk, due to procedure, medication, or other change.

Then the healthcare facility, working with these insights from Qventus, is able to implement proven strategies that are backed up by flawless data instead of untested institutional knowledge.

Preparing for the Future Today

We’ll all need elder care someday, if we’re lucky. We owe to current and future generations to create a healthcare environment where everyone, no matter their accessibility difficulties, can thrive.

Contact Cybernet today to learn how medical computers can facilitate telehealth services, integrate with smart homes, and in general make healthcare tech advances easier to deploy.

Medical Waiting Room Makeover

Makeover Your Medical Waiting Room

Waiting rooms are associated with one thing: misery. There’s no getting around it. Even the name itself invokes dread — it’s literally a room that’s sole purpose is to wait.

But as any physician, dentist, or nurse can tell you, a grumpy patient is bad company. Plus, stress and negative emotions have a proven impact on health.

With doctor shortages and overcrowding, having to linger in a waiting room — possibly for great lengths of time — may be unavoidable for the near future.

But, the stay in the waiting room doesn’t have to feel like the DMV. Try these ideas to turn your waiting room into a “lobby” or, if you’re lucky, even a “lounge.”

How Technology Can Improve the Waiting Room Experience

Time in a waiting room is generally wasted, but it doesn’t have to be.

Check-in Computers

Consider a medical panel PC or medical tablet as a sign-in computer for patients. A properly configured terminal could allow patients to check in, take copayments, input medical history, answer questions about risk factors, sign consent forms, and even get help with languages and translation.

Now, every patient walking in and manipulating a touch screen computer might seem a bit worrisome where it comes to germs and nosocomial infections. That’s where an antimicrobial housing is especially useful, proving the benefit of a dedicated medical computer over an off-the-shelf consumer model.

Still, placing a small antibacterial wipe dispenser near the medical panel PC or tablet would allow patients to wipe it down before use. And if you’re worried about a constant flow of cleaning fluid damaging the computer, that’s another point in the “dedicated medical computer” camp.

Medical computers are often rated IP65, meaning they have an ingress protection rating of 6 for solid particles — which is the highest — and 5 for liquid intrusion, which means they can handle direct jets of water without breaking down.

Keeping Patients Notified

Doctors and dentists have tried different ways of letting patients know when their number is called, and there are more options than just shouting a name as a nurse comes through the door.

The fact is, very few waiting rooms are ever going to be a beloved day-spa, no matter how much time and money you pour into them. And, sometimes, patients just want to stretch their legs or go grab a Diet Coke from the shop next door.

One solution is hardware — those puck-shaped pagers that restaurants sometimes hand out to let you know your table is ready. Some healthcare providers have implemented these at their practice, allowing patients to wander the lobby, go outside, and not feel like they’re so anchored to the hard plastic chair in the waiting room.

If an Applebees can make that kind of system work, most practices can too.

The second solution is software related — either through SMS texting or a specific app. Larger providers may be able to put together an app and notification system, letting patients know through their smartphone when it’s time to be seen by the doctor. It can even push notifications for delays, schedule changes, and helpful tips catered to the individual.

For smaller practices, it’s not difficult to set up an SMS system on a receptionist or nurse’s medical computer that allows them to type a quick text to the patient in question letting them know the same information.

It may seem labor intensive, but so is dealing with frustrated and angry folks who feel like they’re stuck in waiting room purgatory. A little proactive information messaging can make patients happier, make wait times feel shorter, and create a friendlier environment for the staff to work in.

Providing Services in the Waiting Room

Some hospitals and healthcare offices have placed a liaison or concierge inside the waiting room.

A liaison can help patients check in, answer easy and frequently-asked questions, and even begin the process of helping the patient prepare what they’re going to say to their doctor about their health concerns.

Liaisons are also an excellent source of patient engagement. Does your hospital or practice offer educational programs like first-time parent or nutrition classes? Does it have community outreach programs to help feed underserved households? Is there a safe play place on the grounds for kids living in crime-ridden areas?

The liaison can inform patients of these non-medical programs, and can even go around with informational pamphlets to educate those interested, or a medical tablet to allow patients to digitally sign-up right now.

The Doctor Will See You Now

Humans are creatures of our environments — our moods and even health can be deeply affected by the music we hear, the things we smell, and the aesthetics of the space around us.

Consider how a positive waiting room experience can affect practice ratings on places like Yelp and Rate My Doctor, or how a positive or negative picture can spread on social media like wildfire.

Contact Cybernet to learn more about the medical computers, medical monitors, and medical tablets that can transform your waiting room into a 21st century foyer.

Rural Hospital Challenges

Battling the Unique Challenges Faced by Rural Hospitals

Sadly, not all hospitals are equal, and not all regions come with the same problems and solutions. Rural patients and rural hospitals have always had challenges, but the data says that lately, they’ve been suffering more than ever before.

How can we help rural areas improve the quality, quantity, and accessibility of their healthcare? What can training, medical computer systems, and incentive programs do to aid the health and long life of folks who don’t live in cities or suburbs?

It’s a Numbers Game

Did you know that 45% of the total world population lives in rural areas? In the United States, that number drops to 20%, but that’s still a sizeable chunk of the populace. Around 65 million people, to be more precise. To give that number some perspective, that equals the entire population of the United Kingdom.

However, the number of doctors available in rural areas doesn’t quite add up: less than 10% of the nation’s doctors practice in rural areas. For those doing the math at home, that’s right — rural areas in the US have less than half of the doctors required to match the population.

And, to make matters worse, since 2010, 95 rural hospitals have closed, despite the general increase in population across the entire nation. The number of closures is only speeding up, too — between 2013 and 2017, twice the number of hospitals closed when compared to 2007-2012. That means the situation is rapidly deteriorating.

What’s Causing the Rural Healthcare Crisis?

Unfortunately, there are a few factors at play that are contributing to the deterioration of rural healthcare options. However, it’s best to understand them objectively so we can learn how to combat them.

The Recession

Unsurprisingly, the recession hit rural hospitals hard. And, to compound the issue, recovery since then has been slow or non-existent. Rural jobs in industries like farming, manufacturing, coal, and timber have been disappearing as the United States moves further into a high-tech and service-based economy.

With the younger population moving toward cities, and income in the area decreasing, it’s no wonder hospitals and patients no longer have the resources needed for modern healthcare.

Federal Funding Troubles

56% of rural hospital revenue comes from Medicaid and Medicare, so when Medicaid or Medicare funding becomes the newest political dog bone, rural hospitals tend to suffer.

In fact, 80% of the hospital closures in rural locations corresponded with areas where Medicaid funding wasn’t expanded under the ACA.

Region-Specific Health Issues

Rural regions have always struggled with the mental and physical health issues that tend to become exacerbated in isolated communities.

A report from the CDC shows that suicide deaths had “the highest rates and greatest rate increase in rural counties.” Much of this is due to a lack of mental health care access. Obesity rates for men, women, and children were also around 10% higher in rural areas, which creates a greater strain on rural hospitals as well.

And, according to a study published by the Injury Prevention Research Center in Iowa, “rural populations have been shown to have disproportionately high injury mortality rates,” with 100% higher rates of workplace injuries, drowning, firearm wounds, car crashes, fires, and electrocutions.

The Drug Crisis

While the entire country has been struck by an opioid epidemic, rural areas seem to be losing ground even faster. A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC shows that around 2015, rural areas eclipsed urban areas in the rate of drug overdose.

All of these increased risk factors put additional strain on underfunded, understaffed rural hospitals, which can, of course, have devastating effects on the health of the community.

Telemedicine Can Help

Many rural patients suffer from their isolation — distant hospitals create barriers for regular checkups, as do mountainous terrain, difficult weather, and lack of transportation infrastructure. The elderly in particular, the most common hospital patients, are less apt to go without some kind of transportation assistance.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is a burgeoning and exciting field that could change the game for rural hospitals.

A doctor with a video-equipped medical tablet or even just the nearest office medical computer can answer pressing patient questions without the patient even stepping out the door of their home. Video-conference software has never been easier to use, and even rural patients tend to have camera-equipped smartphones and decent LTE or wifi mobile connections.

How Does it Work?

Hospitals and healthcare groups around the country have had success with telehealth doctor visits in numerous fields. These include long-distance therapy sessions with mental health professionals, quick questions with nursing hotlines, and even full, face-to-face digital doctor’s appointments between patients and primary physicians.

Such telehealth visits have even been comprehensive enough for the doctor to prescribe medication for many conditions, or to extend medication prescription writs for already-existing health issues in still need of attention.

With a specialist shortage in rural areas, patients are often disconnected from the medical procedures they require. Telehealth can be okayed by a patient’s primary care physician to allow the patient to connect with specialists that might normally be inaccessible to them.

Streamlining Compliance

Regulations and paperwork are strangling most healthcare facilities, but the lower patient density means the price hits rural hospitals harder. It turns out that the average community hospital pays $7.6 million just in regulatory work — the kind of paperwork, employee man-hours, and training that has nothing to do with patient care.

HIPAA Compliance Made Easier

This is why streamlining the paperwork and EHR aspects of hospital life can net huge gains both in money and time for the hospital in the long run.

To stay HIPAA complaint for medical records, security is key. Biometric, two-factor authentication is a huge, important step toward eliminating the fuss and muss of both staff computer training and potential security breaches that could obliterate a hospital’s budget.

Rural hospitals need to embrace technology like medical cart computers with built-in RFID, barcode, smart card, and biometric capabilities. Constantly purchasing, repairing, and replacing dozens of different peripherals that “walk away” can take consistent bites out of the bottom line, which is why a medical all-in-one computer may end up being a safer investment in the long-term.

The faster and more securely clinicians can sign in to access or update EMR, the less time and money gets spent on compliance. It’s that simple.

More Reliable Computers

Rural hospitals don’t always have the cash at hand for the regular computer updates and repairs that come with an extensive medical computer system. That’s why it’s smart for rural hospital IT to look for medical computers with longer lifespans.

A consumer computer may only last two or three years under near-constant hospital use before it enters the neverending break/fix cycle, but a dedicated medical computer could last 6 or 7 years at peak condition with far less downtime during it’s run.

Seek Out Incentive Programs for Hiring More Doctors

With the previously mentioned doctor/patient discrepancy — 20% rural patients versus 10% rural doctors — attracting more clinicians to rural practice must be a priority.

Luckily, there are programs and grants that incentivize clinicians to operate in shortage-areas.

The Conrad State 30 Waiver Program allows a new doctor to skip the 2-year resident requirement and obtain a contract to work at a health care facility in Medically Underserved Areas and Health Professional Shortage Areas. Rural hospitals need to advertise this incentive, letting medical students know they can fast-track their career and help out those in need at the same time.

Rural hospitals can also help combat the drug abuse issue in their communities and find doctors, mental health professionals, and nurses at the same time with the “Patients and Communities Act of 2018.” In Subtitle H, section 7072, it states that clinicians who “complete a period of service in a substance-use disorder treatment job in a mental health professional shortage area” can have some or all of their student loans repaid.

Better Tech and More Doctors

There is no magic bullet to fix the difficult situation for healthcare in rural areas, but a combination of telehealth, better compliance technology, and clinician incentives could go a long way towards mitigating the worst of it.

Contact Cybernet today to learn about the kinds of medical computer systems a rural health care facility could truly benefit from.

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.

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.

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.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Increasing Patient Engagement Improves Patient Outcomes

Patient engagement means the patient is doing more than just popping in for yearly checkups and going home without another thought toward their health.

It means transforming from a passive consumer into an active member of the team devoted to promoting health.

Educating Patients Leads to Compliance

The first step to patient engagement is education.

We know doctors and healthcare professionals are busy, facing mountains of paperwork and seemingly endless streams of patients. The shortage of healthcare professionals is also real.

However, taking the time to educate the patient on their condition can save them from coming back to your office next week or next month with exacerbated medical issues. Don’t just tell them to “stretch their wrist three times a day.” That information is easily filed away alongside “drink eight glasses of water” and “don’t go swimming after you eat.”

Instead, show the patient a diagram of the wrist on a nearby monitor or medical computer, and point out how tendon gliding can alleviate some of the symptoms, and why it works. More importantly, tell them what can happen to the tendons if they don’t do the recommended stretches.

Help Patients Educate Themselves

Another way to save time and increase patient compliance and education is to offer a bedside or in-room medical computer terminal that the patient has limited access to. It could even be the terminal that’s already in the room, with a patient-specific login.

From it, the patient could pull up their new prescriptions and learn how often they have to take their medication. They could remind themselves how to take it: with water, with food, or only in the morning.

The patient could even access information on what the drug does and how it helps. Again, “take this pill because I said so” is never going to sink in like “take this pill so your veins don’t get so small you can’t move blood around your body anymore.”

You could use such a terminal to give the patient all sorts of useful information – what food to eat, what beverages to stay away from, how often they need to take a walk around the facility. This last one could come with an alarm or reminder.

You could even show them a video or animated graphic that visually outlines a procedure they’re either considering or about to undergo.  

This doesn’t only have to be available bedside, either. For a situation like a doctor’s office, a kiosk or medical tablet in the waiting room could allow patients to log in and learn all of this information as well.

Stay in Touch to Stop Unnecessary Appointments

The next step is communication.

When the patient knows “there are no stupid questions,” they’ll be far more likely to come to you when they have a healthcare problem.

And, if you’re active on social media, have a text help or nursing line, or regularly share your email with your patients, they’ll also reach out to you remotely with small matters instead of either ignoring them (which is bad for their health) or scheduling an unnecessary appointment (which eats time and resources for all involved).

Many providers and offices use patient portals, an automated system that allows patients to contact their doctor or doctor’s office through a safe, secure channel.

Leveraging Communication Technology

Think of that bedside medical computer or medical monitor from the example earlier in this article. Not only could it be used for convenient patient education, but also to facilitate communication.

Imagine a patient using the medical computer to call the nurse’s station, and instead of a beeping light or buzzing speaker the nurse can actually see the patient face-to-face and address their concerns without leaving the desk. Not only will the patient feel more comfortable knowing they have that kind of access, but it could increase efficiency across the board.

Instead of running back and forth between rooms to find out what’s the matter when a patient rings, one nurse could be in charge of this form of communication with every room.

That triage nurse could then dispatch nurses where they’re most needed, saving them time and energy that could be best spent somewhere else.

Patient Satisfaction Strengthens Patient Engagement

This is where patient satisfaction ties in with patient engagement: patients are more likely to partner with their doctor and medical team if they are happy.

Studies and surveys have shown that patients who score higher on satisfaction and engagement metrics like the “Patient Activation Measure” are “significantly more likely than people who score lower to engage in preventive behavior such as regular check-ups, screenings, and immunizations.”

It’s basic human psychology — we disregard the advice and opinions of people we don’t like. It’s the basis for most of the unrest on social media.

So, imagine a patient who feels they’ve had a horrible experience at the hospital. They’re angry at the doctor, angry at the nurses, and they want to leave. Then, the doctor lets them know they can’t eat red meat anymore, or that they should get some exercise, or instructs them how and when to change the bandages, there’s a good chance the patient isn’t even listening anymore. Or, if they are listening, they’ve decided the doctor/staff/hospital is clearly a mess, and doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

This, in turn, leads to the patient not following the instructions, which can drastically affect their future health. The patient is not engaged, and, in fact, may be actively going against their own health because they’re angry or feeling ignored.

As you can see, patient satisfaction isn’t just about dollars and numbers — it directly affects the long-term health of the patient.

The Key to Patient Engagement

It takes both sides of the healthcare equation to make patient engagement a reality – patient participation and clinician support.

To find out more about how to leverage medical computers and tablets to improve patient outcomes you can contact Cybernet today.