Nursing Home Administrators Look to
“Get Out of the IT Business”
Today’s Managed Service Providers help assisted living facilities and nursing homes focus on patient care without compromising private information or network security
Many nursing home and assisted living facility owners and administrators are faced with the same challenge: how to maintain a reliable computer network that is compliant with industry requirements such as HIPAA.
Fortunately, new options exist that can remove much of the burden of these requirements. These services, offered by IT experts known as Managed Service Providers (MSPs), can range from private, secure e-mail hosting to installing and managing a complete network run in the “cloud” (on remote servers) with all hardware, software, phones and even timely tech support provided.
Best of all, these companies are able to monitor and remediate any network security issues to ensure compliance with HIPAA and secure payment transaction requirements. This, combined with a business model that is based on reasonable monthly fees and no upfront hardware or software investment costs, is helping nursing home and assisted living administrators effectively “get out of the IT business” and instead focus on more pressing issues related to patient care.
The Inflexibility of Traditional Computer Networks
The very nature of the industry lends itself to a more complex network configuration, since many nursing home groups consist of multiple facilities in different locations.
As such, computer networks must be designed to tie all the facilities together securely – often from a central location or headquarters – while accommodating requirements such as shared network folders that can be accessed by all with those folders that should only be accessed by a specific facility. Complicating matters, most facilities now routinely install separate wireless Wi-Fi networks for patients and staff.
Until recently, these networks required one or more IT staff members in-house, large capital expenditures for the initial hardware and software, and recurring costs for operating licenses, software and hardware upgrades, and general system maintenance.
Moving to “the Cloud”
According to Robert Williams, Founder & Owner of Compsys, a full-service MSP that regularly works with nursing home and assisted living administrators, the industry is migrating away from this approach and towards options “in the cloud” where information and software is run on private, secure, remote servers.
“Cloud-based servers are managed by experts, and often provide a higher level of security than on-site servers, as data is copied and saved to duplicate servers so no information can ever be lost,” says Williams.
Employees access the off-site server the same way they do an in-house network, by logging in using a username and a password, so the transition is seamless for all computer users despite their physical location.
Since the servers are located off-site, nursing homes do not have to worry about maintenance or crashes, says Williams. Instead, the MSP continuously monitors all hardware/software and handles issues quickly, should they arise.
Rebecca Norman, IT Coordinator for Southern Administrative Services, a medical group with 38 nursing homes across Arkansas and headquarters in Louisiana, believes outsourcing her IT to a company like Compsys provides several key advantages to her nursing home group.
“Switching the company’s servers to a cloud-based system has made things a lot easier,” says Norman. “We don’t have to worry about something crashing, keeping up with security, software updates, or worrying about whether or not the network is in compliance. Our MSP takes care of all of that for us.”
Although she is the IT coordinator, Norman admits she knows little about the intricacies of computer networks. With an MSP, however, that is not required.
“They’re very proactive and let me know right away if a problem occurs, offering troubleshooting solutions immediately. I can rest easy because I know we are in good hands,” adds Norman.
Network Compliance with HIPAA
Another key issue for facilities is remaining in compliance with regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).
Nursing homes are required to implement security measures to handle the patient’s protected health information (PHI), including any electronic data. Keeping in compliance at all times can be challenging for smaller organizations, so an IT that understands HIPAA compliance requirements will set up safeguards to protect medical data confidentiality.
For example, monitoring software can be installed on workstations to ensure that antivirus and malware software is up to date, and immediately sends an alert to a designated staff member if a breach in compliance occurs. The compliance officer can easily access the recorded data and review what needs to be done to regain compliance swiftly.
As for payment handling, PCI DSS security standards ensure that companies can accept, process, store or transmit credit card information while maintaining a secure transaction environment.
Cathy Parson, owner of Hope Healthcare, a medical group that runs nine nursing homes in Arkansas, says she is planning to accept credit cards over the phone soon and has requested Compsys, who previously set up her payroll system, to develop her new payment system.
“Trusting them with our compliance requirements is vital to my business,” says Parson.
Another IT aspect that can be moved off-site is a private, secure e-mail server, over which the nursing home retains full control, rather than the MSP. In fact, the server is so secure, even the hosting provider cannot access it, which fully preserves patient confidentiality and privacy and meets compliance requirements.
Rather than having to purchase or lease workstation hardware (monitors, keyboards, mice) and software up front, a MSP can even provide a full turnkey solution by providing all required items and billing customers a monthly fee. As part of this service, hardware is replaced every three years at no additional cost. This can be a good option for facilities that are new, or haven’t been upgraded for a while.
No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
Compsys’ Williams admits that outsourcing big chunks of a computer network to an MSP is not always a straightforward process since there is no one-size-fits-all solution that meets every organization’s needs. He also stresses that nursing home or assisted living facilities don’t need to immediately jump fully into the cloud all at once. There are many hybrid options and individual aspects, such as e-mail hosting, that can be incorporated in baby steps.
“MSPs can even preserve proprietary software or older programs that administrators want to keep, while adding modern software that can improve workflow or business procedures,” says Williams.
For Hope Healthcare’s Parson, Compsys’ ability to preserve existing software was critical when the company moved to a fully managed, cloud-based solution.
“I had very specific requirements,” Parson explains. “Our electronic health record and document management systems are vital because our billing is generated out of them. Compsys was very careful not to change any software that we wanted to continue to use.”
Monthly Fee Structure
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using an MSP is the elimination of upfront capital equipment costs as well as the cost of crashes, lost files or information, replacing damaged hardware, upgrading and licensing software, and ongoing maintenance costs.
Instead, most MSPs work on reasonable monthly subscription plans that are based on number of users and the range of services provided. For many customers, this further simplifies the IT process because payments are predictable and there are no “surprise” expenditures, which can be significant.
When asked how administrators can find out more about the options available, Williams says that MSPs are more than happy to deliver no-obligation consultations along with a proposal.
“A consultation, which is usually free, is the best way to get questions answered and to learn about choices specific to an existing network,” explains Williams. “After that discussion, the MSP can submit a proposal with pricing and set up demos to show how the system will work.”
For more information, contact Compsys at (501) 758-6818, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.compsyscloud.com.