Archive for category: Articles

7 Features of Microsoft Teams to Know

Categories: Articles

In the weeks that followed the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic and national health emergency, everyone seemed to be talking about Zoom. Overnight, it seemingly went from a little-known platform to one that all businesses needed if they were going to successfully navigate the operational challenges brought upon them by the health crisis. These included the need to pivot to remote work and virtual collaboration to comply with stay-at-home orders and maintain social distancing.

Yet little did many businesses realize that they already had access to one of the best cloud-based communication and collaboration platforms at no cost: Microsoft Teams.

Launched in 2017, Teams was designed as a successor Skype for Business (Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011). It later became a component of the commercial Microsoft Office 365 subscription. That means if your practice has purchased a commercial Office 365 subscription to use the likes of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, you can also use Teams for free.

Considering the impressive features of Teams, it’s a platform that likely has a lot to offer your practice. Here are just seven of the best features of Teams.

  1. Unlimited chat and online meetings. An intuitive interface allows you to send a message to one team member, all of your team members, or any number in between, with the capability to search conversations at any time. For group chats, you can title the channel to help with organization.

If conversations require more than text, pull team members in for a meeting with audio and video calling options as well as screen sharing capability. You can also invite individuals from outside your practice to participate in chats and meetings. Easily record meetings and share recordings with anyone who couldn’t attend the meeting or those who need to reference what was covered in your discussion.

  1. Collaboration via Office apps. Since Teams is fully integrated with Office 365, you can coauthor and collaborate on Word documents and Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files. Access, share, edit, and comment on these documents and files in real time. This eliminates confusion about what version of a document or file is the most current, avoids creation of multiple versions of documents and files, and improves staff productivity since they can always access the latest version of a document or file without the need to request and wait for it from a team member.
  2. Team and personal file storage. The free version of Teams includes 10 GB of team file storage and 2 GB of personal file cloud storage per user. That’s plenty to start with and is easily upgradable if you require more space. Cloud storage has many benefits, including accessibility from essentially any device that can connect to the Internet and automated backup.
  3. Access across all devices. In addition to its comprehensive web interface, Teams is available on Android, Windows, and iOS devices. Using the mobile app version of Teams allows you to keep in touch via text, audio, or video when you’re on the go.
  4. Integration with third-party applications. An ever-growing list of third-party apps can be integrated into Teams. They perform a wide variety of functions that can further enhance the value of the platform for your practice.
  5. Cybersecurity. Microsoft takes cybersecurity seriously. Team uses some of the strongest security standards. In addition, as the company notes, “Teams enforces team-wide and organization-wide two-factor authentication, single sign-on through Active Directory, and encryption of data in transit and at rest.”
  6. Outlook email integration. If your practice uses Outlook to manage its email, Teams just got even better for you. The “Share to Outlook” feature allows users to send a copy of a Teams conversation to an email in Outlook — and do so without leaving Teams. And with actionable activity emails, users automatically receive emails informing them of any applicable missed Teams activity. These missed activity emails provide the latest replies from a conversation, including those messages sent after the initial missed message.

Much, Much More to Microsoft Teams

While these are seven of the most significant features of Teams, there are many others that can make a difference in your efforts to successfully manage your practice and continue to deliver exceptional care to patients in the COVID-19 era. While getting started with Teams can be easy, maximizing its value and potential may require some insight and assistance from your managed services provider (MSP). Speak with your MSP about how your practice could benefit from Teams. You may be surprised to find out just how much a platform that you may have had access to for years can have a positive impact on the future of your organization.

By: Mike Jann
Medicus IT
www.MedicusIT.com
678-495-5908
MJann@medicusit.com

Do you think you know where your IT inventory is?

Categories: Articles

Medical Practices and Covered Entities are often surprised when they discover that they did NOT  know of various IT equipment and software. This is usually due to changes in staff and management who leave little to no documentation or reporting.

HIPAA requires covered entities and business associates to conduct a risk analysis of all potential risks and vulnerabilities and availability of its ePHI. However, multiple OCR investigations are finding most entities don’t document their full Inventory.

The article breaks it down in simple terms; “Although the Security Rule does not require it, creating and maintaining an up-to-date, IT asset inventory could be a useful tool in assisting in the development of a comprehensive, enterprise-wide risk analysis, to help organizations understand all of the places that ePHI may be stored”

ARTICLE

Article supplied by

Bill Steuer

GSG Compliance, LLC

Categories: Articles

My EHR Sucks! How many times have you or your staff made this statement? Turns out you are not alone. According to a Medical Economics study conducted in October 2019, most physicians are dissatisfied with their current electronic health record (EHR). Some of the most common complaints are:

  • It’s hurting my productivity and causing burnout
  • The EHR is interfering with my patient relationship
  • The system doesn’t work the way I do, it’s hard to use

But maybe these aren’t exclusively electronic health record software issues. Maybe it’s also a training issue. According to a recent KLAS Arch Collaborative study, EHR satisfaction increases when the people using them are well trained. Respondents to the survey that indicated they received good training from their EHR vendor reported that they were more satisfied with their EHR (83%) than unsatisfied (17%). Conversely, respondents that reported a bad training experience were more unsatisfied with their EHR (64%) than satisfied (36%).

Source: KLAS, EHR Mastery – The Impact of Training

Practices evaluating EHRs either as your first solution or next solution, should consider the onboarding and training processes a key consideration in making your purchase decision. Look for an EHR that provides comprehensive training including programs specific to your specialty and workflow. Does the EHR vendor offer affordable customized optimization, workflow analysis and training services to ensure you take full advantage of your technology? If the answer is no, move on.

But it is just as important to make sure you and your team are committed to doing the training. It will take time and effort and you may get some push back, particularly from providers. However, the results are worth it. You will have higher satisfaction rates with your EHR and a highly functioning practice.

It’s Never Too Late to Learn Your EHR

There is no way that you will be able to learn everything your EHR can do during the implementation process. Learning should be a long-term commitment. In fact, the KLAS study found that ongoing training was key to maintaining high knowledge and satisfaction levels.

A good EHR vendor will provide a variety of training and educational resources. Whether it is knowledge articles, regular webinar training, self-paced learning programs, or custom onsite training options. Make sure your practice is taking advantage of all these resources. Appoint a team member(s) to manage your ongoing training efforts. Set up regular staff meetings that review new software features and functions or focus on practice pain points. Not only will you learn how to do more and be more efficient, but you will help improve overall satisfaction.

If you are currently using an EHR and satisfaction is low, training might be the answer. Instead of stripping out your system, take the time to invest in some training. This can be far less disruptive and less costly then implementing an entire new system.

Embrace EHR Change. But Train for It!

An electronic health records software suite is a powerful tool for your practice improving efficiency and productivity and enhancing the patient experience. But just like any tool, you need to learn how to use it to realize its full potential. Invest in ongoing learning and satisfaction will follow.

Bart Segal is the founder and CEO of Tri-Med Solutions, Inc, an EHR Value Added Reseller based in Atlanta, GA. He has 25+ years of experience in the Practice Management and Electronic Healthcare Records industry and is always happy to answer any questions. You can reach him at bsegal@trimedsolutions.net.

 

 

A FRESH LOOK … not a bad idea

Categories: Articles

With COVID19 causing us to take a new look at how we do business it may not a bad idea to evaluate your office space to determine if it is meeting your current needs, as those needs have changed in our new reality. Occupancy cost generally represents a practice’s second largest expense next to personnel and your office space’s ability or inability to meet your changing needs will significantly impact your bottom line. It deserves your attention. Such a review should involve the following things:

First – Do you have at least a basic understanding of the business terms relating to your office lease? Consider creating a lease abstract for each lease. A lease abstract is nothing more than a concise explanation of the important terms of a lease.

In the case of a lease:

  1. How many square feet do you occupy both rentable and usable?
  2. When does the lease come up for renewal?
  3. Do you have a renewal option and if so how much notice do you need to give for a renewal?
  4. What is your base rental rate?
  5. What does that rate cover?
  6. Is there a mechanism for challenging operating expense increases if you feel they are out of line?
  7. How much does the base rental rate escalate each year?

Second – You should complete a needs assessment; a fresh look at how your office currently functions as opposed to how it functioned pre COVID19, and ideally how should it function starting now into the future as we head to the new normal. Make a list of your current office space needs. Have these needs changed since the introduction of COVID19 world? Are you contemplating additional providers? Have you reduced the number of providers? If you have added, will they be doctors or other types of providers? Particularly as you approach the final year of a lease you should objectively consider whether your current space satisfies your current needs in terms of flow and the adequacy of its component parts. Over time the needs of the practice change in normal times, sometimes in subtle ways. Now we have to look at a new scenario which has never been and figure out how it changes moving forward. You adapt those changes to the space you have and make it work. The office review is a time to take a fresh “ground up” look at the component parts, such as the number of exam rooms, the size and layout of the lab, the size and layout of the front office, the size of the waiting room and the number of staff working in the front office to see if you really have the components you need, arranged in a manner that creates the most efficient work flow.

Third – Once you know what you have and what you need now, and have a feel for what you think you will need in the future, you can determine your options for getting there. Does the area in which your office is located still fit your needs? If you are a hospital based practice, are most of your patients still admitted to the hospital nearest your office? Have your patient demographics changed since your last review? Even if you have significant time left on your lease you may be able to make changes that would have a significant impact on operating efficiency which could justify their cost. Landlords want and need to keep your practice more than ever in the face of what is inevitably a changing environment. If your lease is coming up for renewal and you have made a determination of your needs, you are ready to assemble a list of available alternatives that encompass those needs. Practices often don’t take the time to look at all their options. They often just look at a few possibilities, generally the most obvious. Your time has always been a precious commodity and is probably no less so now but don’t short change the process. For an item which affects your bottom line so significantly it just makes sense to take the time to do your homework to make sure at the end of the process that you have picked the best option. Otherwise you will live with your mistake for a considerable period of time. Consider hiring a professional if you don’t have the time or the market knowledge to work through the process of assembling and analyzing your alternatives. Once you have a comprehensive list, you need to whittle that list down to a workable number of alternatives, usually 2 or 3. You can do this thru actual or virtual tours of those alternatives, Negotiate between those alternatives to find the alternative which offers the best combination of lease terms, location and efficient layout.

Fourth – After selecting the best alternative, the next step is negotiating a lease document with that alternative. A key part of the process is negotiating lease terms which are survivable if the worst should happen and after COVD19, we know that even the most outlandish scenario may be possible. The majority of lease terms are never used, but it is important that you are prepared to deal with those possibilities or they will devastate your practice if they occur.

Among the issues which should be negotiated in your lease agreement:

Assignment and Subletting

Make sure that you will be allowed to sublease your space if a change in conditions which effects your practice should occur. Whether it is thru events like COVID19, the result of growth or contraction or the need to close the location, you might need to sublet.

Consent

Make sure that throughout the lease the Landlord cannot unreasonably withhold, condition or delay its consent.

Full or Partial Destruction.

In the case of full or partial destruction of your space, make sure that the Landlord gives you notice of his intent as soon as possible and that the period allowed to rebuild your space is as short as practical. No one benefits from damage to the building and it is important that the landlord work with you to help you survive an event which would be devastating for everyone concerned.

COVID19 has shown us that we should give much more consideration to access than we previously considered.

Fifth – Finally, follow through. You have slogged thru finding a space and negotiating a lease, now you need to make sure the space is built out as you intended. Tour the space periodically, checking the construction against the space plan you agreed upon in the lease. It is particularly important to walk through the space with the contractor prior to the cover up inspection. This gives you a chance to look at the construction far enough along to see if there are construction errors, but early enough to minimize the cost of any revisions which the tour dictates. In that tour you will be looking for two things; elements which have not been constructed according to the plan and elements which are constructed according to the plan but when viewed in three dimensions don’t work the way you intended and therefore need to be changed. Once the space is finished, you will walk through the space with the contractor and do a punch list of items that need the contractor’s additional attention.

With COVID19 we have had to take a fresh look at everything and this is no less true for your office space, where such a look can provide real benefits. Time spend on the search and negotiation process is time well spent with benefits that extend to your practice’s bottom line.

Stan Sharp

HealthOne Realty Advisors, LLC

What can I safely get rid of?

Categories: Articles

All your life, you’ve been encouraged to be responsible and to keep printed copies of all the important documents that affect the quality of your life: bank statements, investment statements, medical records and real estate transaction documents, to name a few.

But, over time, they accumulate, and they age. Which documents are important to keep forever? Which need to be retained for a period of time, and then destroyed? Who can give you the guidance to make these critical decisions and when you chose to destroy important documents, what’s the safest way to do it?

You should always consult your income tax professional for advice on which documents you should keep and for how long. But, in general, unless you own a business that has its own information requirements, here are some general guidelines:

When you decide to destroy your sensitive documents that are no longer needed, outsourcing your information destruction needs to a professional On-Site shredding service, better protects your personal information, saves you time and money and provides the “Peace of Mind” you need. It’s low cost insurance that your personal information will never be misused.

Make sure you select a shredding service that does more than just shred your personal documents and provide a receipt. A trustworthy shredding company should be able to:

  • Offer On-Site shredding service, as it reduces your risk by shortening the chain-of-custody that your information passes through prior to destruction. It’s destroyed before they leave.
  • Provide a Certificate of Destruction after each service call and keep them on file permanently, should you ever need copies in the future.
  • Offer shredding of digital devices (hard-drives, cell phones, tablets, flash drives, CDs, etc.) which often contain much more information than your documents
  • Demonstrate their operating and hiring practices are externally audited and certified by NAID (National Association of Information Destruction) and ISO (International Standards Organization)
  • Regularly train their employees on secure information handling and destruction procedures
  • Maintain an excellent customer satisfaction reputation; verifiable with independent unsolicited reviews on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.

For more information, contact Greg Gálvez at greg.galvez@proshred.com or 678-580-1155

Topics: Residential Shredding, PHI, PPI

Primary care physicians could take $15 billion hit due to COVID-19 in 2020

Categories: Articles

Fotolia

Published on: June 26, 2020 on HeathcareDive

By:  Ron Shinkman

Dive Brief:

The financial impact on primary care practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been profound and will likely continue in the months ahead, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

Visits of all types to medical practices declined 58% in March and April compared to the baseline average, and in-person patient encounters declined by 69%, the study found. Although visits are expected to have rebounded by June, volumes are still below pre-COVID-19 levels.

The drop in fee-for-service revenue for the 2020 calendar year is nearly $68,000 per physician, contributing to an estimated revenue decline of 12.5%. That’s a steep enough loss to threaten the financial viability of many practices. Losses to primary care practices nationwide could top $15 billion over the year — a number that could grow if the federal government reverts increased telemedicine payment rates.

Dive Insight:

Medical practices across the United States have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the American Board of Family Medicine attempts to put a price tag on that hit by running a microsimulation for projected 2020 revenues based on volume data for general practices, general internal medicine practices, general pediatric practices and family medicine practices.

As a result, they concluded that the average revenue loss per practice per physician will be $67,774, even taking into account revenue generated by telemedicine visits, which did not make up for the massive loss of patient volume during the spring.

That loss could be cut to as little as $28,265 per full-time physician if other staff is furloughed and salaries are cut to the 25th percentile of such cuts that took place during the peak of the stay-at-home orders.

Some practices are also projected to have steeper losses. Rural primary care practices are projected to lose $75,274 per physician. Other studies have suggested that pediatric practices have been hit harder than other primary care fields. Some organizations, such as the American Medical Group Association, say revenue won’t rebound fully even next year.

The study also conducted various alternate scenarios for the remainder of 2020, including a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. The researchers estimated that would cut patient volumes by about half as much as what occurred during the spring. However, the financial hit would deepen even further, reaching $85,666 per physician.

Altogether, the study projects primary care practices will lose $15.1 billion in fee-for-service revenue this year, not even accounting for a second wave of the coronavirus. The study’s authors note that “this loss would balloon substantially if telemedicine payment rates revert back to pre-COVID-19 levels towards the end of the year.”

The study concluded that while primary care physicians as a whole have not been as hard hit as the hospital sector, the services they provide in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and as the port of entry for many into the healthcare system makes them too valuable to suffer sustained levels of financial damage.

Article provided by Stephen Bradley

How Employers Can Ease Escalating Employee Financial Stress

Categories: Articles
New Edelman Financial Engines survey shows different ways employers can ease increased financial stress due to COVID-19, such as expanding automatic 401k features and offering financial coaching for retirement

Lots of people are experiencing financial stress these days as a results of the COVID-19 crisis, but an even higher percentage are stressed if they are not currently saving for retirement, according to a new survey released this week by Edelman Financial Engines.

The survey reveals close to half of American workers (47%) say they have “a lot” of financial stress, but those saving in a 401k are less likely than non-savers to report financial stress (44% vs. 57%).

Gen X and Baby Boomers report higher levels of financial well-being than Millennials, but large numbers of every age group and race are struggling, according to the survey. Among respondents, nonwhite workers are 2.6x more likely than white workers to describe themselves as poor.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based independent financial planning and investment management firm surveyed 1,077 American workers the week of April 6, 2020 about their financial stress, economic concerns and use of financial advice. Nearly half of those surveyed reported relatively weak financial well-being across three different measures: level of financial stress, outlook, and ability to handle a mid-size financial shock.

“We are seeing high levels of financial stress among employees and it is impacting many aspects of their lives,” said Kelly O’Donnell, Executive Vice President at Edelman Financial Engines and head of the firm’s workplace business. The firm serves thousands of employers, including 137 of the Fortune 500, and says its financial advice is available to more than 10 million employees. “Companies that give workers better access to financial advice can help alleviate their employees’ financial stress, leading to increased productivity, lower turnover and reduced absenteeism.”

COVID-era worker concerns

Almost half (46%) of workers say they are “extremely” or “moderately” concerned about the stability of their household income. Among these workers, 85% are concerned about their own job, while 46% are concerned about their spouse’s income.

The survey also revealed that workers are “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about:

  • the value of their retirement savings or other investment accounts (52%)
  • the resilience of their employers (41%)
  • their healthcare costs (41%)

Only about two in five (44%) workers said they would be able to easily come up with $2,000 within 30 days for an emergency. About one in 10 (11%) would not be able to raise any emergency funds at all, while nearly a third (30%) would need to make sacrifices and 14% would have to do something drastic to raise the money.

One in three reported taking adverse financial actions, such as depleting their emergency savings or stopping contributions to their retirement accounts. Millennials were most likely to take such financial actions.

“Large numbers of American workers are suffering financially, and their plight is likely to linger even after the economy begins to recover,” O’Donnell said.

Many with high financial stress say it has had a detrimental effect on their work, including decreased productivity, loss of focus, and anxiety or tension in the workplace. Over a third of workers (37%) believe that they would benefit from receiving financial advice during this uncertain time. Non-savers (43%) and Millennials (47%) feel they would benefit the most from talking to a financial adviser.

Opportunities for employers

Indeed, the survey revealed many opportunities for employers to help improve their employees’ financial well-being, such as:

  • Expanding automatic features in the employer’s 401k plan. Automatically enrolling employees, initially upon hire and during periodic re-enrollments, has repeatedly been shown to help workers save on a regular basis. Periodic re-enrollment and automatic contribution escalation features also improve worker participation rates. The survey revealed that workers who contribute to a savings plan are twice as likely to be able to raise $2,000 in an emergency and half as likely to feel “a lot of financial stress” as their peers.
  • Providing access to independent financial planners. Giving employees the opportunity to talk with a financial planner can help improve employees’ financial well-being, resulting in better long-term decisions and improved workplace productivity. Talking to a financial professional is also a proven method to reduce financial stress, and nearly all survey respondents who talked to someone say their outlook improved or stabilized. The survey found that workers who have a financial plan and who are saving for retirement are experiencing less financial stress than those who lack a plan and are not saving for the future, confirming the value of getting financial advice during periods of economic turmoil.
  • Offering financial advice and coaching as a retirement or employee benefit. Comprehensive advice that includes every aspect of a worker’s personal finances, including student loans and other debts, insurance, taxes, mortgages, college planning, estate planning, Social Security and multigenerational issues such as childcare and elder care can help employees navigate critical financial decisions and increase peace of mind.
  • Enabling emergency savings for employees. Workers with emergency savings accounts may be less likely to seek a loan or pre-retirement withdrawal from their plan, improving their retirement security prospects and helping the plan retain assets.

Without these programs and resources, workers may face prolonged and severe financial stress, resulting in decreased productivity, loss of focus, and anxiety or tension in the workplace. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five retirement plan savers said they changed their retirement savings behavior, whether by re-allocating, pausing contributions, or accessing retirement savings pre-retirement via loan or withdrawal.

Edelman Financial Engines says these actions are often triggered by emotions rather than an informed plan and can threaten a worker’s future retirement security.

“When individuals borrow or withdraw money from retirement accounts, it becomes less likely that they will achieve their retirement savings goals,” O’Donnell said. “Pausing contributions or making improper risk allocations can also harm them, especially after a market downturn. All these mistakes can reduce their ability to benefit from economic recovery.”

Article submitted by Joshua C. Harper, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, RICP®

Healthcare IT: 5 of the Biggest Trends and Developments

Categories: Articles

Healthcare is undergoing a transformation. Advancements in healthcare IT are helping healthcare providers better meet the growing needs of their patient communities; confront significant challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and aggressive cybercriminals; and leverage solutions that improve the overall delivery of care.

Here is a summary of five of the biggest trends and developments in healthcare IT.

1. Embracing of telehealth

Prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, healthcare providers were gradually adopting Telehealth and offering more virtual services. Once the pandemic hit and brought with it stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, telehealth was essentially transformed from an optional service offering to a required one benefiting patients and healthcare providers. A Medscape article went so far as to declare in April that “A Decade of Telemedicine Policy Has Advanced in Just 2 Weeks.”

Organizations are going all-in on telehealth. An mHealthIntellgence article shared the results of physician surveys indicating that 90% were using at least some form of telehealth and around 60% percent were planning to continue following the pandemic. The article includes this quote from Mei Kwong, executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy: “Telehealth has been the missing element to how we deliver healthcare. But now people are familiar with it. They now have the experience and will want to see it used more often.”

2. Cloud adoption on the rise

For healthcare providers on the fence about whether migrating to the cloud is in their organization’s best interest, the pandemic may have answered that question. Healthcare organizations with cloud-based technologies have found these solutions invaluable to everything from allowing remote staff to work more effectively and safely (both individually and collaboratively) to launching and growing telemedicine programs.

As a report from Cloud Computing News notes, the healthcare industry was already leading other major sectors concerning cloud use before the pandemic. “This early cloud adoption is a big benefit in the fight against the pandemic as it improves on the ability to analyze relevant data to improve response. Cloud computing is more than just about data storage. It also lowers IT costs for health facilities as they avoid the need to train personnel, purchase equipment, and provide physical space for the IT people and hardware. Additionally, it eases interoperability by enabling data and system integrations.” The publication also highlighted the value of the cloud in supporting telehealth.

The healthcare cloud computing market was projected to experience rapid growth in the coming years. The health crisis is likely to give cloud computing an even greater boost as healthcare providers more rapidly transition to cloud-based solutions.

3. Video collaboration services becomes commonplace

By now, it’s probably safe to say that most Americans have used some form of a video service (e.g., Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Skype) to communicate with friends, family, and coworkers during the pandemic. These platforms have also served as mechanisms for healthcare providers to deliver services to patients (e.g., telehealth, as previously discussed). While much of the attention in healthcare has been paid to the benefits associated with leveraging video services to deliver patient care, another value has been somewhat overlooked: supporting efforts by providers to collaborate and communicate with members of their staff and others.

As we’ve heard from multiple clients, the ability to coordinate planning, response, and recovery efforts using video collaboration platforms (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business) have essentially been nothing short of a lifesaver. These platforms not only include video meeting and consultation features, but also personal file storage; team file storage and sharing; real-time file collaboration; chat; and integration with numerous apps and services to further support productivity and teamwork.

Healthcare providers are using  these business collaboration services to hold board meetings, review and revise documentation, track tasks, educate and train team members, speak with vendors about the services and purchases needed to safely resume operations (e.g., cleaning and disinfection, personal protective equipment), interview prospective team members, and more. Nearly all meetings that would have previously occurred in person are transitioning to these video business platforms.

While business collaboration services will not permanently replace in-person meetings, virtual gatherings and collaboration are here to stay. They represent a viable alternative that can allow healthcare organizations to maintain social distancing more effectively, embrace some form a remote workforce (if desired), and stay better connected with individuals inside and outside of the organization, among other benefits that can deliver improved staff productivity and efficiency.

4. New opportunities arise for cybercriminals

Cybercriminals are always looking for their next opportunity to take advantage of vulnerabilities, and the pandemic has presented them with significant openings. Healthcare providers — always an attractive target — are even more appealing to cybercriminals during the crisis.

Organizations that raced to add telemedicine offerings may have overlooked security or not given it appropriate attention and consideration. Healthcare providers may have felt more comfortable with doing so because the HHS Office for Civil Rights issued guidance stating that, “HIPAA-covered healthcare providers may, in good faith, provide telehealth services to patients using remote communication technologies, such as commonly used apps … for telehealth services, even if the application does not fully comply with HIPAA rules.” But there were conditions to this guidance.

Unplanned growth in remote working and data-sharing can present cybercriminals with an easier means to access patient and healthcare provider information if healthcare staff working remotely lack the necessary cybersecurity safeguards. In addition, as CSO noted, “Healthcare organizations of all shapes and sizes are likely to be under more stress than usual, which may make staff more lax around what they click on.”

That’s concerning when you consider that Google data indicates there are more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages that use fear and financial information to encourage users to respond, reports Healthcare IT News. In April, the Federal Bureau of Investigations issued an alert warning of targeted email phishing attempts aimed at healthcare providers that use email subject lines and content related to COVID-19.

Then there’s the matter of organizations gathering particularly important healthcare data. As NBC News noted, “… the increased amount of information hospitals are collecting on patients because of the pandemic, as well as any research that could lead to the development of a vaccine, is highly sought after by hackers working on behalf of foreign governments.”

5. 3D printing helps address critical needs

Desperate times call for desperate measures. While 3D printing was a growing industry receiving greater attention for its applications — both established and potential — in healthcare before COVID-19, the pandemic motivated many healthcare organizations to swiftly turn to the technology for help when they were confronted with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical equipment.

As Becker’s Hospital Review notes, 3D printing has been used for a variety of applications, from making face masks, face shields, and test kit nasal swabs to transforming airway pressure machines into ventilators. The federal government is tapping into 3D printing’s value. The U.S. Department of Defense is using 3D printers to create emergency ventilators, among many other purposes.

Using 3D printing to create healthcare supplies brings risks, as the National Institutes of Health notes. “While it is possible to use 3D printing to make certain PPE, there are technical challenges that have to be overcome to be effective enough. 3D-printed PPE can be used to provide a physical barrier to the environment. However, 3D-printed PPE are unlikely to provide the same fluid barrier and air filtration protection as FDA-cleared surgical masks and N95 respirators.”

Despite these potential shortcomings, we can expect 3D printing to continue to play a role — potentially a significant one — as the battle against the COVID-19 virus continues. It wouldn’t be surprising if healthcare providers who have not used 3D printing in the past take a closer look at whether the technology has a place in their organizations.

By: Mike Jann
Medicus IT
www.MedicusIT.com
678-495-5908
MJann@medicusit.com

Confused About Masks?? You’re Not Alone

Categories: Articles

There is so much confusion about whether people should wear masks and why and what kind. Much of the confusion around masks stems from a lack of understanding about the two different functions of masks.

Masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer. Protecting the wearer is difficult: It requires medical-grade respirator masks, a proper fit, and careful putting on and taking off. But masks can also be worn to prevent transmission to others, and this is their most important use for the population. If lowering the possibility of one person infecting another, the impact is amazing, so even a small reduction in those odds results in a huge decrease in deaths. Luckily, blocking transmission outward at the source is much easier.

The main way COVID-19 is spread is via droplets that fly out of our mouths—that includes when we speak, not just when we cough or sneeze. This is especially relevant for doctors and nurses who work with sick people all day. That’s why their gear is called “personal protective equipment,” or PPE, and has stringent requirements for fit in order to stop ingress—the term for the transmission of these outside particles to the wearer. Until now, most discussion about masks has been directed at protecting medical workers from ingress.

But the opposite concern also exists: egress, or transmission of particles from the wearer to the outside world. Up until now, less research has been conducted on egress, but controlling it is crucial to stopping the person-to-person spread of a disease. Obviously, population compliance becomes very important during a pandemic. Unfortunately, information online doesn’t properly distinguish between ingress and egress, which adds to the confusion.

The good news is that preventing transmission to others through egress is relatively simple. Research shows that even a cotton mask reduces the number of virus particles emitted from our mouths—by as much as 99%.

COVID-19 has been hard to control partly because people can infect others before they themselves display any symptoms—and even if they never develop any illness. Recent studies show that nearly half of patients are infected by people who aren’t coughing or sneezing yet. Many people have no awareness of the risk they pose to others, because they don’t feel sick themselves, and many never become ill.

If we could just keep our germs from being sent out every time we spoke or coughed, many fewer people would be infected. Masks help us do that. And because we don’t know for sure who’s sick, the only solution is for everyone to wear masks. My mask protects you; your masks protect me.

Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with most masks, that’s enough to halt the spread of the disease. Many countries already have more than 80 percent of their population wearing masks in public, where most stores deny entry to unmasked customers, and more than 30 countries that legally require masks in public spaces. Mask use in combination with physical distancing is even more powerful.

A vaccine may take years, and in the meantime, we will need to find ways to make our societies function as safely as possible. Our governments can and should ensure medical workers have everything they need. But ordinary people are not helpless; in fact, we have more power than we realize. Along with keeping our distance whenever possible and maintaining good hygiene, all of us wearing just a mask could help stop this pandemic in its tracks.

 

Article by: Sheila Fox-Lovell

Shandy Creative Solutions

shandycreative.com

770.951.0305

sheila@shandycreative.com

 

 

 

 

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