It was a surprise to me when I learned that most hospitals don’t provide their physicians, surgeons, clinicians or hospital administrators with remote access to internal hospital systems.

I know that nowadays everyone is worried about personal health information getting into the wrong hands, but it seems to me that the average patient’s gall bladder is not of much interest to the average hacker.  I don’t mean to make light of the issue of patient security – I just mean to say that the virtual private network technology in use today provides such a high degree of encryption that the security of patient records is not really an issue anymore.

That being said, when you consider how many different systems, from different manufacturers, using independent operating systems, are spread throughout a hospital, it’s not surprising that hospital staff are stuck in the building long after they needed to be there.

It’s no small feat to provide remote access to the internal network of a hospital – it’s quite another thing to also provide access to the PACS, the EHR, patient monitors, financial systems, virtualized applications and shared file systems.   In other industries, virtualizing the workplace has become a major initiative, because it reduces overhead and helps companies become “green”.   One of the ways businesses make it easier for remote users to access internal systems is through “Single Sign-On” which provides access to all the company’s internal systems after a user provides authorization credentials (whether in the form of username/password or some more robust criteria).

Single Sign-On for hospitals has been a bit of a pipe-dream for IT Management up until recently, as hospital systems come from so many different manufacturers and are often much older than the average business would normally keep a technology.

I have read recently of one company that is providing Single Sign-On remote access capability specifically for hospital applications and as I mentioned in the last post, remote access is a critical technology to improve the lives of healthcare professionals.  Add Single Sign-On to the technology, and you’ve reached the next level of ease-of-use.

AnyWare Group, a Canadian company focused on providing remote access for hospitals, recently announced that it’s ROAM Platform has been enhanced with Single Sign-On (SSO) functionality. <link>

ROAM provides remote access to all the systems in a hospital and can do it with one set of authentication criteria, from any computer, anywhere in the world.  To my mind, it’s not the anywhere in the world part that’s the most fascinating – it’s the fact that your doctor could go home and, if needed, get into systems, monitors, applications and files in a moments notice with no fuss and no hassle.  That has to mean that your doctor will get more family time, more rest, more recreation, more time away from the hospital, and I don’t know about you, but I work a lot better at my job when I’m rested and glad to be there.

-V-

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In order to function at optimum performance levels, everyone needs down time.  Not only is it critical to your health to be able to relax, put your feet up and catch much needed sleep, it’s equally important to gather with family, laugh with friends and engage in recreation that revives the body and mind.  The one group of people who you’d think would be the most likely to heed this healthy-living imperative would be health care workers who know, from training and experience, that you have to take care of yourself.

Too often, medical personnel are the most overworked of all workers.  Thankfully, here in New Brunswick, provincial health authorities have done something important to help alleviate the stress and long hours experienced by doctors and other medical staff.  The Province of New Brunswick has implemented one universal remote access solution for all the hospitals and physicians in the province.

Doctors in the province are concerned that delays in implementing their new contract will have a negative effect on recruitment efforts.  I think many people outside the medical profession can empathize as we all experience the negative consequences of the economic downturn.

However, the provincial health authority has recently added one incentive that may have a positive impact on recruitment and retention – remote access to health care systems for all physicians in the province.

This may not seem like a big deal to those of use who work in the business world.  After all, we’re often so wired into work, we have to turn everything off just to get a break.  But for doctors, long hours stuck in the hospital are often the norm.  We’ve all seen the dramatic depictions on the medical drama shows on TV: tired physicians, sleeping in their white smocks in broom closets or locker rooms (do they have locker rooms in hospitals?).

To be able to securely access lab reports, electronic medical records, X-rays and CT scans, dictation and transcriptions, remotely, and interact with all the other applications and systems contained within the walls of the hospital, means that doctors and hospital administrators can go home.   That’s just how important remote access for health care can be.

I think sometimes we patients tend to think of doctors in the same way we thought of teachers in elementary school – “don’t they live in the classroom?”  Children are always surprised to meet their teacher when shopping with a parent in the grocery store.  “You mean she eats just like us?”  Sometimes I see my doctor walking home from his office, getting some daily exercise, and I think to myself, “Wow, he’s just like a regular person.”

Hospital workers are real people, who need to go home sometimes, see their kids, barbecue, get some sleep.  Anything that can make a difference in their lives, including remote access to health care technology, is a big deal in my books.

In Canada, health care workers bear much of the downside of universal health care and we all benefit greatly from their extra efforts.  I’m glad to see that doctors in New Brunswick can catch an even break from a remote access solution that can make their lives easier.