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How Healthcare Organizations Can Incorporate Mobile Devices
By H. Peter Felgentreff

Healthcare organizations are grappling with how to incorporate mobile devices into their daily operations. But taking the leap from an antiquated, paper-based records system to a digital system shouldn’t be an uphill battle. Case in point, we (NCP Engineering) recently helped a hospice services organization transition from a complicated paper-based system to a new mobile system that digitizes travel logs, patient care sheets, and Medicare record filing into near real time.

Pushing for a Mobile Solution
Healthcare organizations typically manage mountains of paperwork. If you have staff delivering mobile healthcare services, the paper problem grows exponentially. Think about all the visits that must be logged and the mileage tracking and the checklists that must be updated. Adding another layer of pain, new Medicare regulations now require patient claims to be filed within a shorter window of time, making a paper system nearly impossible.

“This is a huge problem in our industry.  We often have health aid workers coming into the office to turn in their paperwork,” explains Fred Cruz, IT director at American Hospice, the organization with which NCP recently worked. “And it takes our office staff several days to enter the reams of loose paper into our systems. Once entered, the team needed to submit the information to Medicare. The main questions that loom: Are we able to meet their tight window yet be accurate in our recordkeeping and make sure we are reimbursed in a timely manner? The answer was no, and it began to impact our bottom line.”

This can cause a slew of accounting and time-loss issues. Ultimately, the best way to move forward is to invest in home health tracking software and mobile devices that allow staff direct access to the network. With this process, paperwork could be eliminated and the main office updated in near real time. 

Addressing the Data in Motion Issue
The more daunting challenge, however, can be finding a virtual private network (VPN) system that is compatible with an organization’s unique needs and able to be scaled as needed for future demands. Securing data in motion is not only a HIPAA requirement, it is also crucial to protect sensitive patient information as well as the organization’s IT system integrity.

Securing data in motion is complicated by the mesh of technology that usually exists in a networking environment, such as a variety of firewalls, network gateways, and endpoints. Other complicating factors include the mobile device’s operating system, and whether your organization needs Internet protocol security, SSL VPN, or—most optimally—both.

“Once a healthcare organization decides to make the transition, it takes months to find the right VPN solution, and this is often the hardest part: sifting through price issues, interoperability questions, system management concerns, and stressing over which system would be easy enough for nontechnical staff to maneuver while meeting strict security requirements,” Cruz says.

If you don’t do your homework, be prepared to sift through an overwhelming pile of VPN solutions. There are simply too many offerings that are overhyped, don’t work as advertised, or are produced by fly-by-night companies that have since gone out of business. The key is finding a well-established company with compatible, end-to-end, easy-to-use software solutions. 

Solving the Challenge
After deploying a VPN solution, American Hospice was able to protect patient data reported by its 180 home healthcare employees. It now secures all the information on the devices themselves and while in transit to the hospice’s network. The organization has also been able to reduce its operation costs and increase worker productivity.

— H. Peter Felgentreff is CEO of NCP engineering.