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Computer Networking and the Small Group Medical Practice
Just as maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical for your patients, maintaining a healthy IT infrastructure is critical to the vitality of your practice.
Yet, how do you know if your IT systems (the applications you use each day, the computers they run on, and the networks that tie everything together) are healthy? You need to know the warning signs before something goes wrong.
If you’re like most practitioners, you rely on an IT service provider to perform this service for you. You trust them to maintain the health of your computer systems just as your patients trust you to help them maintain their health.
Whether you rely on an outside service provider or members of your staff, there are 6 key indicators you can monitor to ensure your IT infrastructure is healthy and ready to support your practice.
1. Stability and Reliability
Healthcare practices depend on their computer systems for everything from patient scheduling and billing to managing patient medical records.
Unstable systems impact productivity requiring significant investments in time and money before performance and stability are restored to acceptable levels.
Indicators that your computer infrastructure may not be as stable as you require include:
- Difficulty accessing documents and records
- Inconsistent or unpredictable response times
- Frequent computer or applications freezing
As computer systems age these types of problems occur more frequently causing you to spend more time and money maintaining the existing systems when those resources could be invested back into the practice.
When a computer system goes down, the results can be severe. From a simple power failure to more acute outages caused by a system crash, there are unforeseen events that can affect availability of key applications required to run your practice.
Fortunately, there are actions you can take to reduce the risk of this occurring and the impact to your business if it should happen.
The first line of defense begins with your systems’ design.
Power outages and hardware failures are the most frequent reasons why computer systems go down. A healthy system is designed to minimize the effect of these events by including:
- power surge protectors to protect PC’s and network devices, and
- uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) to protect servers and data.
Next, consider how long your practice can operate without your IT systems. If you’re dependent upon your computers to function, you need additional resources that’ll keep your applications running in the event of a failure. These resources could range from:
- Servers with redundant disk drives and power supplies, to
- Complete servers designed to take over responsibility for running the application if the primary server fails.
3. Business Recovery
Even the best designed computer networks may fail, and when they do, the two most important considerations are:
- how fast can they be brought back on line, and
- how much data can be restored.
While having a system down may be costly in lost productivity and disruption of patient services, lost data can cripple your practice. Imagine the impact if you lost weeks or months of patient records, billing and claims processing information.
This is why the single most important element of an IT systems infrastructure is a Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan that has been fully tested and verified.
The plan should:
- Include provisions for regular system backups and off-site storage of the backup data.
- Establish realistic timeframes for restoration of service.
- Document key activities and steps required to restore service.
- Define the procedures to follow within your practice while the systems are unavailable.
Accessing patient’s records used to be a matter of pulling their chart from a file cabinet. When a patient was referred out for diagnostic tests, the results were faxed or mailed to your office. Now it is more likely to require access to information stored in your computer system.
Today’s computer systems are expected to support a wide variety of access methods from:
- wireless access within the office, to
- remote access from distant offices or physicians’ homes, and even
- access to information stored on other provider’s computer systems.
While advances in technology have made this all possible and affordable, they’ve also created new challenges for protecting patient information and ensuring access only to authorized users.
Check your systems to ensure your wireless networks encrypt information to prevent unauthorized access from other wireless devices nearby.
When implemented correctly, wireless and remote access protocols are both reliable ways to access information housed on the office computers without compromising security.
When you consider data security for your practice, you have two primary concerns.
- First, to protect your information and your computer systems from unauthorized access, use, or destruction.
- Second, to ensure that you’re in compliance with evolving patient privacy rights regulations.
Protect yourself with the following strategies:
- Establish and enforce strong password standards.
- Restrict administrative access to authorized users and terminals.
- Implement a secure firewall between the network and the internet.
- Keep all computers updated as new software updates are released.
- Install Anti-Virus protection software on all computers and servers.
6. Flexibility and Adaptability
As much as computers have changed the practice of healthcare in the past, advances in technology and continued focus on reducing healthcare costs ensures the pace of change will continue to accelerate in the future. Maintaining a successful practice will require having a flexible computing infrastructure in place that can adapt to support these changes without having to redesign everything.
Ask yourself the following questions to assess the flexibility and adaptability of your computer system.
- How long does it take to add new users or computers to the network?
- How easy is it to add new features or functions to your existing applications?
- How long does it take to add new applications, such as e-prescribing?
- How easy is it to integrate new applications with your existing ones?
Many practices approach their computer systems similar to their patients’ approach to their own health: missing, or ignoring, the early warning signs that something’s amiss.
If you’re unsure or have concerns regarding your systems, it’s well worth engaging a professional IT service provider with the right mix of technical insight and medical practice expertise to conduct a formal assessment and offer recommendations.
With extensive experience in the healthcare industry, California Computer Services understands the challenges facing healthcare organizations. We bring technology to the point of care, guide your decision-making process, and connect physician groups, hospitals, labs, radiology practices and surgery centers for seamless, real-time information sharing. We can help ensure you have the right infrastructure for your practice to keep it healthy and running at full capacity.
For more information on Computer Networking and the Small Group Medical Practice please call 916-729-1102 or fill out the form below:
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