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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.

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.

 

Base image by rawpixels at Unsplash

How to Prepare for the Future of Medical Imaging

Reading, understanding, and making a diagnosis from a radiological or other medical scan is no easy feat, even for expert radiologists and doctors.

Sometimes, signs get missed, visual illusions appear in the scan, or important factors get obscured. This is called “interpretive error,” and it means the scan was read or interpreted incorrectly.

“Interpretive error” is still a huge nightmare for hospitals, patients, and doctors. In a study from April of 2017, published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, it was found that the rate of interpretive error in radiology hasn’t changed significantly since 1949. With almost 70 years of technological progress between now and then, how is that possible?

And what can be done to improve it?

In Medical Imaging, High-Quality Visuals Are King

In the study mentioned above by the AJR, perceptual errors “account for 60 to 80% of interpretive errors.” This just means that either the scan or the method of viewing the scan was unclear, and a mistake was made.

Beverly P. Wood M.D., at the USC School of Medicine, described the process very much like learning how to read. She writes that the radiologist or tech must hone their skill through long practice, creating a “mental library of images and patterns” and instinctively learn how to interpret them correctly. She also stresses that visual stimuli are the most important markers for human perception, and that “at least 80% of incoming stimuli are visually based.”

Which is exactly why it’s so important that medical monitors and medical panel PCs be high resolution, offer a solid refresh rate, and have a bright display. The key to more accurate readings is to make sure that imaging techs and clinicians have the best set of eyes on the problem.

The New Tech on the Block

As computer processors speed up, medical imaging has taken a great leap forward.

Today’s widescreen, 4k medical computers are high-definition, certified for EN-60601-1 and UL60950, and can even include antiglare technology that provides a crisp and clean picture for spotting even the smallest details of a scan no matter the lighting conditions.

Of course, the hardware underneath the screen is also pushing the future of medical imaging tech ever closer.

Make Better Decisions with 3D Imaging

Increased processing and data transfer speeds have allowed 3D imaging to move from grainy, artifact-laden images to true three-dimensional tomography with volumetric rendering.

CT scans can create full 3D maps of veins and arteries, brain tissue, tumors, skeletal structure, and even exact organ placement.

State-of-the-art medical monitors, combined with purpose-built imaging devices, allow these near sci-fi levels of medical imaging and radiology to be used by hospitals around the world.

Soak Up Fewer Rays with Ghost Imaging

A new form of 3D imaging, “ghost imaging” or “ghost tomography” exposes the patient to fewer x-rays while still maintaining a visual picture.

Ghost imaging uses two x-ray beams of the same phase and intensity. One of these beams is fired at the primary target to be imaged (i.e., the patient), while the other is fired at a special panel to serve as a “control” beam. The difference in intensities between the two beams are then calculated on a computer and used to create an image.

While this can be done with various kinds of EM radiation on the spectrum, when done with x-rays it can create medical scans with far less radiation exposure to the patient.

This not only reduces chances of cancer and other harmful side-effects, but it also means the patient can get more frequent scans should they have to without increased radiation exposure.

The tech is still early days, but once the visuals are improved ghost imaging could represent a huge sea change in imaging tech.

Improve Point-of-Care Diagnosis with Portable Ultrasound Machines

Portable ultrasound devices are already moving into the market. Though expensive at the moment — upwards of $4,000 — pocket ultrasound devices like the GE Vscan may ultimately replace the common stethoscope as the go-to portable diagnosis device for clinicians.

Handheld ultrasound devices are roughly the size of a jumbo cell phone, and come with a small probe attached by a thin cable. This probe takes the place of the usual ultrasound “wand,” but at a fraction of the size.

The pocket ultrasound can hear and visualize heartbeats, providing healthcare workers with far more accurate and detailed data right at the first point of care.

There are also options like the Philips Lumify, an ultrasound app that can be used on any smartphone or medical tablet in conjunction with a USB transducer probe that plugs into most standard devices.

See More with Advanced AI

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are best for taking massive amounts of data and combining it to find patterns and categorize information. As anyone who works in or near the medical field is aware, there’s no shortage of work finding patterns and categorizing information.

Companies like LG and Samsung, for instance, have announced that they’re using AI algorithms to improve the accuracy of their imaging devices. These pattern-detecting and image-extrapolating programs are able to take only partial or obscured scans and render them fully visible via sampling and educated extrapolation.

These scans can detect lung nodules hidden by rib bones, or help increase breast cancer diagnoses by up to 5%, especially amongst younger or inexperienced doctors.

Advanced AI coupled with modern imaging hardware can even detect cartilage thickness or determine whether a stroke is being caused by a hemorrhage or a blood clot.

Embedding Medical Panel PCs into Imaging Machines

Medical machine manufacturers are making better use of existing medical computers, medical tablets, and medical panel PCs to serve as the brains and interfaces for their imaging machines.

Why reinvent the wheel and design a computer from the ground up in addition to a high-tech imaging machine when there are plenty of medical computers perfectly designed to do the job? A medical panel PC with a touchscreen interface is simple to use, and can even come with features like antimicrobial housing, fanless design, and IP65 certification.

The antimicrobial housing creates a hostile environment for bacteria, preventing them from growing on the PC and spreading to other users. The fanless design prevents the computer from pushing air around and potentially spreading airborne contagions. And the IP65 rating means two very important things for medical machines:

First, it means that the computer can be sprayed down with disinfectant and other cleaning solutions and wiped clean without damage to the device.

The IP65 rating also means that the case is hardened against physical particle intrusion, preventing dust, dirt, and other mediums from entering the case.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Staying up to date on medical imaging technology is a moving target, but visuals, processing power, and innovation will always be key components to radiological, ultrasonic, or tomographic scanners of any kind.

Contact Cybernet to learn more about how medical monitors and medical panel PCs can augment and improve medical imaging machines.  

 

telemedicine image on phone

Reducing Unnecessary Hospital Visits with Telehealth

It’s no secret that medical facilities are understaffed, overcrowded, and often underfunded. Patients seem to be shipped in by the truckload, and factors like staffing shortages and doctor burnout have many professionals worrying about increased wait times and decreased patient satisfaction.

Unnecessary hospital visits only expound these common problems, choking up emergency departments, urgent care facilities, and even doctor’s offices with patients who would have been just fine at home.

Luckily, the industry of telehealth has made great strides in reducing these visits, especially in the fields of home care, telemonitoring, and chronic illnesses. Add to that the possibility that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may be expanding the number of telehealth services covered by Medicare, and you’ve got a full-blown industry boom brewing.

But how can hospitals and medical practices leverage telehealth to save time, money, and mental energy?

Where is telehealth most effective?

Telehealth Reduces Nursing Home Hospitalizations

Nursing homes are only growing more crowded as one of the largest generations — the Baby Boomers — age. And since the elderly are frequently hospitalized for numerous different reasons, nursing homes are a perfect launching point for telehealth services.

Some nursing homes have already partnered with medical groups and vendors to use long-distance doctor’s visits to lighten the load on nearby hospitals.

Central Island Healthcare, a nursing facility in New York, had telemedicine experts train their nurses. These nurses were then able to use medical tablets and medical grade PCs to give their nursing home residents long-distance doctor visits without leaving their rooms. Instead of constantly shuttling nursing home residents to and from hospitals, the nurses were able to help the patients get diagnosed and even prescribed medication over a Skype-style video chat with a doctor.

This reduced hospital visits of nursing home residents from 25 a month to 14. Doctors, over medical computers, were able to see the patients and help them, but without all of the attendant hassle for both parties.

Another added benefit of telehealth for elderly patients — they’re unlikely to contract a nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infection from the comfort of their own rooms. And considering that the elderly are typically at the most risk from common hospital-acquired infections like pneumonia, telehealth could literally save lives.

What About Nursing Hotlines? Do They Work?

Perhaps one of the earliest forms of telehealth is “telephone triage,” more commonly known these days as a “nurse hotline.” Nurse hotlines allow patients to call a number — usually provided by their insurance — to get quick medical advice from a nurse.

There’s little doubt to their efficacy — a study by the University of Southampton in the UK found that a well-staffed nurse hotline can reduce the number of both ambulance dispatches and hospital admissions in the area, with a relatively low error rate.

However, telephone triage lacks the greatest strength of modern telehealth: nurses aren’t allowed to diagnose conditions or prescribe medication. For those procedures, a doctor is required.

Plus, the nurses are only able to talk to the patient over the phone, and can’t see them or be shown symptoms or wounds. And while nurses are incredible at their jobs, that’s a difficult position for any clinician to be in. Modern telehealth devices far surpass the limitations of a simple phone call, and smartphones, tablets and computers can all be used to upgrade the old telephone triage hotlines into full-scale telehealth services.  

Telehealth Monitoring Leads to Fewer Visits to the Emergency Room

Close to 75% of all healthcare expenditures are spent on chronic illnesses. They’re also the cause of 70% of the deaths in the United States.

However, telehealth monitoring may be a highly effective weapon to combat this problem. Telehealth monitoring uses a device to record vitals like heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. A home monitor that is integrated with a medical device computer then sends the information to the doctor, who is able to monitor sudden drops and changes. With doctors receiving real-time updates, it’s far easier to treat flare-ups and complications of a patient’s diagnosed chronic illness.

This monitoring can also take the form of digital doctor’s appointments, where the doctor speaks to the patient over a video call. The appointment then goes much like any regular in-person visit, especially when the doctor already has all the patient’s vitals courtesy of the telemonitoring system.

An exhaustive report of multiple studies from medical groups, universities, and hospitals found a wealth of useful data about how telemedicine, particularly telehealth monitoring, made a huge difference to cost, engagement, hospital admissions, and mortality rates for patients with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, pulmonary disease, and heart disease.

Over multiple studies, mortality rates from chronic diseases monitored by telehealth were reduced anywhere from 15% to 56% depending on the study. After having a stroke, patients who used telehealth monitoring had a reduced mortality rate of 25% for the first year after the original stroke.

The study concluded that a massive wealth of evidence points to telehealth “reducing hospitalization and emergency department visits,” “preventing and/or limiting illness severity,” which resulted in “improved health outcomes.”

A separate study of veterans with chronic illnesses found a 19% reduction in hospital admissions and a 25% reduction in the number of bed days. They also found that the telehealth treatment cost less, and produced excellent satisfaction scores from the veterans who used it.

What Does the Future of Medicine Look Like?

The future has already arrived for many telehealth technologies.

Dedicated virtual care centers, facilities whose sole purpose is to provide long-distance care for patients, already exist. Mercy Virtual, a dedicated virtual hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri, doesn’t have a single patient bed on the premises. Instead, nurses, clinicians, and doctors in the facility (or working remotely) communicate solely via medical computers to diagnose and treat patients.

Another sci-fi tech, virtual reality, is already being used to train doctors and perform long-distance surgery. In addition, there is some evidence that virtual reality immersion techniques, used from the safety of home, could be used by psychiatrists and patients to treat disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even intense phobias.

Obviously, some of these more advanced techniques are in their infancy, but it does show that telehealth is being taken seriously as a treatment style that could have huge positive benefits.

Telehealth Today

It’s clear that healthcare has a problem with rising costs, patient wait times, and clinician burnout. Luckily, cutting-edge telehealth technology like camera-equipped medical tablets and medical computers, along with telehealth training, could take a massive load off of overworked healthcare professionals.

Right now, only 15% of physician practices are using telemedicine. Any new technology takes time to proliferate, but with telehealth showing huge leaps in cost savings, patient health, and reduced hospital visits, it’s a technology that simply can’t be ignored.

How can your practice benefit best from telehealth? Is your medical computer equipment up to the task of the streaming, video-recording, multimedia demands of the burgeoning telehealth future?

To find our more information contact Cybernet here.

4 Ways That AI will Affect Medical Computer Systems

The term “artificial intelligence” conjures images straight out of science fiction blockbusters: super-smart machines controlling all aspects of life, and often running wild to destroy their human creators. In reality, however, AI is very different… and in many ways, it’s already here.

Artificial intelligence is defined most prominently by an ability to perform human-like tasks. For instance, many AI programs are designed to learn over time, allowing them to analyze data more accurately and provide more sophisticated computing functions.

This impact can be felt most profoundly in the medical industry, which is already undergoing a technological revolution thanks to modern medical computer systems. The advent of AI will affect such systems considerably, and in a few years may become an integral part of any medical organization. Those hoping to take advantage of the enormous potential of AI applications would do well to start preparing for it now.

So what does that mean? It means taking a close look at the ways that AI will affect medical-grade PCs and ensuring that the units in your network are prepared for it. Here are 4 specific things to look for.

Upgradable Components Add Processing Power

AI relies on typical hardware concerns, which come down to processing power and storage space. The faster a computer can perform and the more space it has to hold information, the better it can do its job. Consider, for example, the vital task of data analysis. An AI program can analyze a huge amount of medical records very quickly in order to spot trends in treatment plans and places where errors seem to recur. (This is already happening in places like the Cleveland Clinic, where IBM’s Watson program is used to conduct deep data mining of existing medical records.)

In order to do that, it needs a system with a great deal of memory and processing power, and implementing such a program may require you to replace older computers that lack the capacity. Alternately, looking at an upgradable system now – with the ability to upgrade ram, add a second hard drive or even upgrade the CPU with more powerful versions in the future – will allow your network to adjust to increased needs and better take on the requirements of an artificial intelligence system.

Superior Imaging Helps AI Do Its Job

Diagnostic imaging PCs and similar devices help enhance the images doctors need to perform diagnoses: anything from x-rays of broken bones to endoscopes pinpointing problems in the patient’s gastrointestinal tract. But imaging analysis can take a long time, as medical personnel pore over numerous images in search of accurate information. That means a significant loss of efficiency at best, and if the needed information is time-specific – if, for example, the information is required before emergency surgery – it can be dangerous.

3D medical scans benefit immeasurably from AI features, which can analyze visual data much faster and with greater accuracy than humans. (MIT has developed an algorithm called VoxelMorph for just such analyses.) But that, in turn, relies on high-quality imaging from the computer itself, which provides better data samples and can improve accuracy. A system with a high-end video card and superior image processing will be well-suited to AI image diagnostics, and allow such applications to perform their functions effectively.

Everything Is Connected

Accurate analysis depends on accurate data, and that can rely on devices that aren’t necessarily set up for an AI application. An older x-ray machine, for instance, may use outdated image files that are not readily integrated into a newer medical computer network. Patient data, medication supplies and similar details may also suffer from interconnection issues (such as when they are recorded by hand and logged into an electronic system later).

The more interconnectivity a network has, the more readily such data can be analyzed and interpreted by an AI system. That starts with peripheral equipment, such as 2D barcode scanners and RFID devices. When directly integrated into a medical tablet or computer on wheels, they allow nurses and doctors to instantly scan patient data by swiping the scanner over medical bracelets, as well as scanning barcodes on medication bottles and even medical equipment.

Similarly, legacy ports such as RS-232 ports on a medical computer provide access for older machines. That, in turn, allows an AI application to analyze the data from a legacy device with considerable speed and efficiency. The more you can address interconnectivity with a system designed for AI functions, the more smoothly it will run with other equipment, and the more quality data will be procured for its use.

 

Cybernet Manufacturing produces a variety of medical grade PCs to facilitate artificial intelligence applications. If your organization is looking at the potential of AI for your network, contact our team to discuss your options.

surgical monitors and medical computer system

Understanding How Medical Computers Enhance EMR Capability

Technology in hospitals has advanced greatly towards automation and electronic document storage to improve the lives of patients and facilitate the jobs of medical professionals. As of 2015 96% of all non-federal acute care hospitals had adopted basic EMR software. Even in rural areas adoption was at 80% – up from just 53% as recently as 2013. As with all tools, however, adoption isn’t enough. How you use a tool determines if you are maximizing its effectiveness and your ROI. Since the introduction of EMR systems, medical computers have presented new methods of accessing healthcare information and services. Here’s a brief look at how these systems are changing healthcare information roles.

Making Charting Less of a Time Drain

Probably the most dramatic shift since the widespread adoption of EMR software has been in how patient charting is done. In the past, charting was a paper process that took up hours of a nurse’s time each shift, taking away from actual time spent on patient care. Even today however, some hospitals and facilities still require nurses to do their charting at the nurses station, which means that time is still wasted transcribing data into the EMR software. Time that could be spend tending to patients.

Medical cart computers that are certified to run EMR software can help alleviate tedious processes like this. Instead of charting at a central location, nurses can go room to room, administering to their patient’s needs, and chart in “real-time”. What sets these computers apart from regular commercial grade computers is two-fold. First and foremost, they are medically certified devices that have been cleared for near patient use. Second, they use integrated RFID, fingerprint and smart card readers to ensure secure log-in, keeping patient data safe and secure as mandated by HIPAA.

Making Anesthesiology Safer

There is no time when a patient is more vulnerable or when a hospital’s risk and liability are greater than when surgery is being performed. The role that anesthesiologists play in mitigating both risks can’t be understated. Unfortunately, a lot of facilities still use antiquated processes when it comes to anesthesiology. There are certain realities that must be adhered to in an operating room. The sterile nature of the rooms and regulations regarding electrical medical equipment often times leads to anesthesiologists being forced to monitor patients and record vital information on paper. We’ve even heard of one example where the anesthesiologists were monitoring the patient from outside of the operating room because their equipment was deemed safe for near patient use. This is a massive liability that is easy to fix.

Medical computers are built and designed for these applications. Fanless medical computers are safe for sterile environments. A true medical computer will also be UL60601-1 certified for near patient use and IP65 rated for cleaning and disinfection. Large displays with touchscreens also make it easier for the anesthesiologist to enter patient vitals, meaning there is less time doing data entry and more time administering to the patient. Here’s one example of one of the advanced surgical centers in the country made the switch to fanless medical computers in their operating rooms to enhance their patient care.

 

 

Remote Patient Care

It’s not always the case that patients are able enough to travel to a doctor’s office. Disabled individuals and shut-ins will need in-home care. Mobile health clinics might be necessary in rural areas. Mobile clinics are also an important pieces of the healthcare puzzle in underserved areas. There are several reasons why an individual might not be able to gain reliable access to healthcare on their own. But mobile technology now allows healthcare to come to them, if not in their homes, at least in a more convenient location to them.

Medical grade tablets have completely changed healthcare. In-home nurses can bring these devices with them and record patient information directly into an EHR system. The same can be said of mobile health clinics. Patients can use a table to enter medical histories or sign up for patient portals so they can access their records from home. Practitioners can even engage in telehealth consultations to share test results or help diagnose ailments. And all data is immediately recorded in an EMR solution every step of the way.

Preventative Medical Care – The Future of EMR

As before, healthcare has “developed legs” and evolved to become so comprehensive that healthcare tracking is something that can remain with patients. Since the rise of the Internet of Things and wearable devices that track our health, patients are taking better preventative steps for healthcare. Instead of periodical healthcare snapshots, physicians can look at a profile of patients with ongoing health metrics and identify conditions that can lead to more serious health complications years down the road. This allows for a further understanding of illness which can push the boundary of medical education and progress. Many experts believe that blockchain technology will allow healthcare networks to aggregate hundreds of thousands of anonymous data points to identify risk factors and health trends, ultimately leading to early diagnosis and preventative health plans. And of course, medical computers will be at the forefront of connecting the dots.

These are just a handful of the ways that medical computers are maximizing the way hospitals and other facilities are using their EMR software. EMR software, like all technology, will continue to evolve and grow and the way that it is used on a day to day basis will improve the outcome of patients everywhere. For more information on how to improve your EMR investment you can contact us here.

 

medical tablets and tablet with barcode scanner

3 Usages of Medical Tablets in a Mobile Environment

As the health landscape changes, the technology adapts to fit the needs of the people. Healthcare professionals strive to reach patients that aren’t always able to travel to healthcare centers; that’s one of the reasons why telehealth usage has grown in the past few years. As technologies adapt to smaller forms and communication capability increases, more individuals that can’t frequent hospitals or clinics are seeing the benefit of medical tablets. They’re being used in various ways to improve the lives of patients while removing the pains of commuting and increasing convenience. Here are three usages of these tech-smart devices where older, less mobile technology wouldn’t be viable to use.

Mobile Blood Banks are All the Rage

It’s true there’s a critical blood shortage in the US. The American Red Cross often calls out for blood donors since blood is often in short supply. Complex medical procedures call for large quantities of donated blood, and as these procedures increase in frequency and complexity, donated blood reserves dry up. As recent as September of 2017 it’s reported that The Red Cross is behind by roughly half of the necessary units for daily optimal operations. One of the ways The Red Cross is gathering blood is by organizing and running blood drives.

These blood drives often employ medical practitioners to travel to various sites and use medical tablets to track the blood withdrawn and then have it preserved for use later. It’s convenient for individuals willing to donate since often times mobile blood banks are at traffic-heavy events where anyone can sign up and donate blood to help patients and victims of disasters. With the extensive battery life of a medical tablet, a blood bank can be in service for several hours to collect all the donations needed.

The same technology is heavily used by emergency response teams. Patients in dangerous car wrecks or people that have fallen victim during a natural disaster can be administered blood via a medical tablet. A paramedic can test to see what blood type a patient has, locate and identify a compatible blood reserve using a tablet with barcode scanner, and then use the tablet to track the blood while they’re being prepped for hospital admittance. The time saved matters.

Combating the Opioid Crisis with Medical Tablets

Time reports that in 2016 alone, the ongoing opioid crisis claimed more than 42,000 lives. There’s been a nationwide effort to reduce opioid overdose incidents, but the problem is still prevalent. With this medical crisis on the rise, a lot of less fortunate victims that have strong addictions to painkillers and other drugs may need emergency on-the-site assistance from first responders in the event of a patient collapsing.

An emergency team can use a medical tablet to diagnose and administer proper dosages of medicine to treat drug addicts and save lives. The tablets used could be used to immediately send patient information, vital signs, condition, and other information via the 4G wireless technology in order for medical staff to prep for immediate hospitalization. When it comes to overdoses, seconds can be the difference between life and death. Any advantage that first responders can gain in that race can save lives. 

Medical Tablets Hit the Streets

An opioid addiction isn’t the only reason tablets might be fielded—sufferers of agoraphobia, the disabled, eldery, and homeless patients that need medical help can’t easily help their selves to nearby healthcare outlets.

Medical staff can use a medical tablet to perform telehealth operations and visit those who aren’t able to check in to clinics. Those immobile or bedridden can stay indoors and have a doctor diagnose and treat patients using the built-in wireless technology. Or, a tablet could be paired with a medical device to diagnose or examine health problems. Therapists and psychologists can hold telehealth sessions via medical tablets to consult with their patients. Scheduling, prescribing medication, and transmitting patient information can all be wrapped into a familiar platform for doctors and nurses. Telehealth capability skyrockets with using this new form of sophisticated technology.

 

Medical tablets are the new standard for mobile healthcare, simply put. The boost in communication, capability, versatility, process time reduction, human error reduction, paperwork minimization, and telehealth capability is second to none. The possibilities as this new technology develops more over time are virtually endless. Contact us to learn more.

RFID tablet medical tablet

RFID Tablet Technologies Solving Problems in the Hospital

A hospital is an unpredictable environment. One moment hallways are calm and clear; the next, staff are bustling to get a patient into the emergency room. Errors are not uncommon. Thankfully, technology has evolved over time to address a lot of the problems we’ve seen in the past arising from miniscule errors. RFID is one of the technologies incorporated into the daily use of hospital tech that has been exceptionally beneficial for many reasons. Here are some problems hospitals commonly face that can be solved using a medical tablet with RFID technology.

Asset Tracking Using an RFID Tablet

A recent news report detailed a VA hospital was missing over 1 million worth of hospital equipment over the course of several years due to various reasons—improper and erroneous tracking, theft, or misplacement. Clearly, the costs add up quickly over time. Radiology departments are no stranger to loss either. They’re usually inundated with lots of equipment, both large and small. It’s easy to misplace a lead marker for protection against high radiation levels because they’re such tiny devices. Just one lead marker costs approximately 20 dollars, and if they’re constantly misplaced the cost can add up quick.  Missing equipment, such as radiation markers, can be outfitted with RFID tags, and hospital staff can locate each tagged object using a medical tablet with RFID. It helps to prevent misplacement and theft. The technology pays for itself.

RFID Tablets Aren’t Just for Tracking Equipment

We understand that the hospital is one of the last places anyone wants to have an extended stay, and so some patients—especially the elderly and mentally unhealthy—may be inclined to wander or hide. There was a recent case in South Africa of a patient hiding in the ceiling of a hospital and staff wasn’t able to locate the patient for 13 days. Some sources online cite over a hundred babies were abducted from nurseries between the 1960s and today. RFID tablet technology can track where people are moving via tagged wristbands so, in the unlikely but very real situation of missing people or abductions, they can be located. RFID tablets protect lives. Misplacing a 30 thousand dollar surgical drill is one asset loss, but it doesn’t hold a candle to missing people.

Equipment Status Can be Tracked Too

Online studies point to numerous cases where unsterilized or improperly sterilized instruments transferred infections to surgical patients. Hospital infections can easily transfer if an instrument isn’t sterilized improperly—or at all. Medical staff can use an RFID tablet to implement new processes of ensuring instruments used in surgery are free of infection. Even linens can be tracked. Before they’re secured onto a bed, sheets with laundry tags can be scanned using a medical tablet with RFID to check their sterilization status. Infections drop, patients are healthier.

RFID Equals Improved Data Security

RFID technology doesn’t simply have to be about tracking equipment and inventory. Patient records must be kept secure. More and more hospitals are switching to some form or two factor authentication to sign into medical computers and tablets. Imprivata SSO is the standard that most hospitals used, and an RFID tablet that is already Imprivata certified means that your patients’ medical records are safe from data theft. Even in the event of the physical theft of a tablet, it would be impossible to access EMR software without the RFID card necessary to login. This not only keeps your patient records safe but also insulates a hospital from any potential lawsuits that might happen as the result of a data breach.

 

RFID goes beyond just saving a hospital money from replacing missing equipment—it protects the lives of the patients and medical staff in a myriad of ways. Ensure your hospital has the proper technology to track all inventory, assets, and patients. Contact us here today to see how you can drive down costs from unnecessary spending and costly accidents in your hospital.

Computer on wheels or medical computer

Mishaps in Hospitals from Inadequate Hardware Problems

Technology is great. We can stick to 8 hour work days while increasing productivity and then go home to families or plan out our next self-driven project. Granted that’s what technology is supposed to help us do, but sometimes bumps in the road of problem A to solution B can be tech-central. Technology can fail, unfortunately. Thankfully, the time invested to restore tech to working order is a sacrifice hospitals are willing to accept to bring better and less erroneous healthcare to patients. However, when older and inadequate tech is more of a burden, it’s time to consider scrapping what used to work ten years ago with something that can reduce tech-related stress and hangups that drain more time than necessary to get the job done.

Spotty WiFi with Computers on Wheels

It’s a constant problem for the 21st century in hospitals everywhere—spotty wireless communications in every corner of the hospital building. Call up a nurse’s desk to ask what issues they’re facing with technology and inconsistent WiFi will be mentioned. Chalk it up to weakened signals from aging hardware and insufficient components. It’s not feasible to remove that problem for good, but it’s possible to pinpoint key factors in technology—mostly residing in a hospital’s medical computers—that can be improved so WiFi isn’t a problem of which patient room you’re in or where you’re standing. Here’s WiFi woes and ways to restore the fidelity in the “Fi.”

Take a hypothetical case—a nurse using a cloud-based EMR system on a cheap laptop finds that in patient room 105 the WiFi doesn’t kick in, and so entering information relies on memory, written notes, or a silly, cumbersome workaround. That’s not ideal for a hospital, especially when “zero” can be a dangerous entry for a patient refill or a different metric. If the IT department has ensured that the wireless infrastructure is the highest standard on the market, then the culprit lies within the laptop. The wireless card inside of the machine doesn’t communicate well with the wireless routers in the hospital.

If that’s the reason for the signal drop, it’s time for IT to consider upgrading their computing efforts to medical computers with Intel-certified wireless cards instead of laptops that power cheap alternatives. An Intel dual-band wireless AC card is the current standard for wireless technology in a hospital. Not only more secure, these cards have the know-how to switch between wireless routers on the fly without signal loss. Computers on wheels are often pushed through several hospital wings and floors, jumping from one wireless router to the next. Intel wireless cards are secure and stable enough to swap from router to router seamlessly. It’s a hardware standard that computers on wheels and medical devices need to operate optimally. Besides, less stress on the end-user is always a positive thing.

Hospitals Don’t Shut Down—Neither Should the Hardware

Twenty thousand hours. That’s how long a standard hard drive disk lasts per average metrics and regular use. It may seem like a lot, but that’s just over two years if you do the math. Medical computers operate at near 24/7 runtimes. If there’s a hard drive failure in two years, that’s not a very strong lifespan for a computer to store data. The last mishap a nurse or physician wants is for the digital rug to be pulled out beneath them with a hard drive failure while they’re busy entering patient data into a medical computer. The drive can’t be sent off to data rescue because it would violate HIPAA laws. So, what to do?

Thankfully, technology has improved hard disk storage so there aren’t moving parts to break—solid state drives have a longer lifespan than regular platter hard drives, but that doesn’t rule the smarter tech out of defect or an eventual kaput. A medical grade computer with a military-grade solid state hard drive will push that two-year average life cycle to beyond five years. If the looming storage failure is still a concern for staff—which can happen at any given moment—then a backup drive coupled with the original solid state can serve as a proper safety net. IT can clone the surviving drive and restore the medical computer to optimal working status. Besides, a computer cycle for a hospital should be five years to stay with EMR software development. Having a hard drive that’s graded to last beyond a purchase cycle is ideal.

Shoddy Medical Computer Touch Screens

Touch screens are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. Introduce the dirt and grease from five separate individuals’ hands onto a touch-screen interface and an infection may reside somewhere in the fingerprint jungle. They’re not always the easiest to clean either—spray disinfectant directly on a medical monitor and the internal components could suffer from adverse effects from the disinfectant (broken pixels, unresponsive touch controls, or an immediate transformation into a paperweight) running into the crevices of the monitor. Some insufficient touch screen tech needs constant calibration to ensure what’s touched is the intended function. Pressing “Close” should never result in “Administer Medicine”—we shudder at that thought. But there’s still tech problems galore in working with touch screens that don’t measure up to what hospitals need.

The kind of tech needed in a hospital is what’s called 5-Wire Resistive technology. Avoiding too much tech-talk, it’s a more durable technology than capacitive because it holds up to scratches and cosmetic imperfections, it’s easier to work with since it doesn’t require skin contact, it’s cheaper to manufacture, and it lasts longer than the newer capacitive technology. Couple these features on a medical computer and bye-bye tech problems.

It isn’t intuitive to think of hard drives, touch screen technology or wireless cards when you’re talking about patient care. But in today’s HIT world, technology is one of the driving factors in providing the absolute best user experience for healthcare practitioners so they can focus on taking care of patients. For more information on how a computer designed specifically with healthcare in mind is different than a commercial grade computer you can contact us today to learn more about our medical computers.