Addressing ACA Data Security Challenges To Streamline Healthcare Operations

Addressing ACA Data Security Challenges

This post is sponsored by Accellion

Nina Seth, Accellion’s healthcare expert, discusses the ACA data security challenges and explores the move towards utilizing technology to streamline healthcare operations. 

As have most areas, the healthcare industry is beginning to fall victim to consumerization. Its an interesting shift, because while healthcare services are built upon the fact that human beings need individual support and care, much of the industry has run for decades as if its manufacturing identical brake pads. And it makes sense that it took an evolution in how patients use technology in their own lives to inspire an evolution in the way they demand their healthcare interactions take place.

At the hub of the most current wave of this shift is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Consumers were clamoring for better ways to purchase insurance, to interact with their doctors, and to maintain their medical records. The healthcare industry has been shifting towards these demands for digitization, but recent issues with the ACA illustrated just how difficult it can be when a behemoth the size of the healthcare industry is trying to to evolve.

The global healthcare market is expanding, and specifically the wireless healthcare market is expected to grow 20 percent in the next five years, due to new digital applications being introduced to the marketplace. These advances will be key, as the industry transforms, fueled by the need to improve patient outcome while reducing healthcare costs. Government regulations such as the ACA, HIPAA and HITECH in the US and the UK Health and Social Care Act 2012, and forthcoming changes to the European Data Protection rules are forcing all organizations and workers involved in healthcare to implement new systems to manage patient information.

Data security is the key piece that is missing from this equation. Consumers want ease of use, but physicians and healthcare providers know that before they provide consumers with the simple mobile tools they desire, that the data that will live in these apps is secure and compliant.

That was the biggest challenge facing those who were working to fix the Healthcare.gov portal, the platform for many of the changes implemented by the ACA. In order for the exchange to work seamlessly, it had to integrate with the IRS to verify details such as income, social security numbers, and immigration status. All of this personally identifiable information (PII) means that the security regulations are required to be far stricter than the average website.

Despite the issues faced by the ACA and Healthcare.gov, many areas of the healthcare industry have successfully moved towards modernized technologies, specifically mobile devices, to help doctors’ focus on improving the quality of their care. I know of a local government healthcare services agency in California that has completely revolutionized the way they care for their patients and county residents through mobile technology.

Staff members across the department are seeing big boosts in productivity from their improved technology. They now have access to any document they need from a mobile device, so they can pull up-to-date records and details from any location, at any time. This has improved the way that mobile nurses support staff and physicians collaborate on a patient’s records, or research initiatives, as all team members can access the content within a secure folder.  Any and all files edited offline, such as summaries on medical research, are automatically synchronized when users are back online, giving staff members the confidence that they are working from the most up-to-date materials.

The organization’s clinic services department also relies on mobile technology to support its school-based medical and preventative services delivered via mobile clinics that take place throughout the county. Previously, nurses would take notes on their laptops, in a Word document, and at the end of the day would have to return to the office to upload the notes into a secure storage system that was on-site at the county offices.  Now, nurses can securely capture activities and patient notes – from wellness checkups to on-site physicals and immunizations – on an iPad, and save them to a secure sharing and collaboration solution on the tablet, which automatically uploads the notes to servers based at the main office. This ensures all notes are encrypted in line with HIPAA regulations and are then easily accessible when and where needed during school visits – a huge time savings.

And it’s not just the medical staff benefiting from mobile technology. Emergency management teams, who spearhead safety drills and disaster recovery efforts for the county, have established mobile technology solutions as the go-to service for emergency management documentation, because they were concerned that teams would have trouble accessing the content if it was only housed on a computer terminal. Now in the event of a disaster, employees can quickly access needed information about the emergency processes from any device, improving the reaction time of staff involved, and ensuring that county residents have better quality of care in the aftermath of an emergency.

One of the areas where healthcare organizations can help improve integration and patient care is on the technology side of operations. These types of mobile usage in the healthcare industry illustrate just how important it is for all providers to begin modernizing their technological infrastructure. Advancements in secure technological solutions are the enablers that will increase the collaborative efforts of all healthcare practitioners, and help drive the integrated, quality care that patients are demanding. Working for a technology vendor I hear daily from my clients about their need to expedite the way they communicate, without adding extra costs or security risks to their network.

Regulations surrounding personal health information (PHI) and PII are strict, to ensure that patients are receiving the best quality care for their physical issues, as well robust security to protect their digital lives. The ACA, HIPAA and HITEC are all in place to ensure the safety and privacy of patients – it’s the job of the medical organization, and its technology partners, to ensure that this data is secured for the patient, even if patients aren’t aware of how many steps are taken on their behalf.

At the end of the day, patients are going to continue pushing for new ways to make their healthcare practices efficient and mobile. The organizations that understand this and work with patients to make care more digital will be the ones that succeed, while those that do not will fall by the wayside.

Accellion is an enterprise file sharing solution working with organizations including Seattle Children’s Hospital and Leigh High Valley Health Network to securely share and collaborate on confidential data. 

Image credit: Jon McGovern via cc