A Healthier Practice Through Effective Backup
David Finn, Health IT Officer at Symantec
Most healthcare providers would agree that everything about their business is becoming more complex. While it’s good that physicians now have easier and more access to patient data than ever before, the flip side is that the technology making digital healthcare possible is creating a new set of challenges. Medical practices have been busy digitizing files and implementing electronic healthcare records. Meanwhile, concern for electronic protected electronic health information (ePHI) confidentiality has led to increasingly strict regulations. Adding to this are new technology solutions for the business such as virtualization and cloud computing.
The healthcare industry has been very careful about adopting new technologies on the business side, even as medical equipment and technologies have advanced rapidly. But clinicians are discovering the advantages of storing information where it can be accessed anywhere, including on mobile devices. With this improved access comes additional concerns, and protecting ePHI is becoming almost as important as taking care of the patients themselves.
One of the most important steps to take in protecting information is backup. Between natural disasters, unexpected system issues, and cyber attacks, providers need to implement backup as part of their overall IT plan, to keep ePHI safe but also to keep it available.
Current Backup Challenges
One challenge facing smaller providers as they implement backup solutions is that they have information stored on endpoints including desktops and servers, mobile devices, and virtualized machines. As a result, they are using several different backup solutions, each of which covers a different environment. This means more time spent managing backup, more time spent training people on how to use them, and more expense for the business. It’s also difficult to get a comprehensive picture of whether everything is being backed up.
The perception of backup is another roadblock to effective implementation. Many people think of backup as a slow process that eats up resources and makes machines run slower, and healthcare requires fast, dependable technology. Hospitals, physician practices and other clinical facilities can’t afford to make their daily operations less efficient in order to focus on long-term goals.
But the most significant backup challenge is one that technology alone can’t address: simply doing it. Many providers feel that their resources need to be spent on day-to-day challenges, and strategic planning becomes an afterthought. Backup always ends up at the bottom of the to-do list, but today’s healthcare facilities can no longer afford to avoid it. Don’t wait until disaster strikes and data loss happens to start backing up on a regular basis. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How to Intelligently Implement Backup
Fortunately, backup providers are now addressing this need for improved options to help all types of types and sizes of businesses keep their information safe. With the right kind of preparation, healthcare facilities can implement backup that protects them with simple, effective protection. Look for a backup solution that can help meet these goals:
Simplicity: The latest generation of backup tools can provide backups for physical and virtual machines. Choose a solution that will keep information safe whether it’s on a PC in the office or on a physician’s tablet at home. An integrated solution will keep costs down and make things easier for staff.
Futureproofing: Consider not only current needs, but also what your requirements may be in the future. This is important as you decide whether to use backup software, an appliance or the cloud. Backup software requires in-house setup and ongoing management, but it allows you to keep all your information on the premises. Appliances are convenient all-in-one tools complete with software and hardware, requiring minimal IT staff to manage. And for businesses with no in-house technical expertise, cloud-based backups deliver backup through a service provider, using a Web-based interface. Your plans regarding future business expansion may influence which platform is right for your facility.
Usability: Your backup solution’s ease of use is also important. If non-technical employees can easily manage their backups and recover their own files, it will save time and help make sure backups actually happen. Restoration of single files should also be possible even on virtual machines, rather than requiring a complete reprovisioning.
Retention: In part due to fear of missing compliance requirements, many healthcare facilities have been simply retaining all their information indefinitely. This can increase storage costs and make it more difficult to find the information you need. Healthcare practices should back up and retain records according to regulations, and older files should be archived, which is lower-cost storage for infrequently needed information. You should also designate when information should be deleted, to slow the growth of storage needs. The backup solution you implement should also allow you to effectively search for files to quickly meet eDiscovery requests In the event of legal or regulatory review or audits.
Compliance: Any backup solution should comply with applicable state and federal regulatory requirements. Backups in the cloud should meet the requirements of your Business Associate Agreement. If you are storing ePHI off-site, encryption is considered not only a best practice but is recognized ‘safe harbor’ from federal breach notification requirements.
Backup is an essential part of a healthcare organization’s overall technology strategy, and a foundational part of providing effective care to patients. Combined with security solutions for the office and mobile devices, it helps today’s healthcare businesses to keep protected health information safe, while also making it available to clinicians where and when they need it.