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A 2013 HIMSS Analytics study found IT leaders are utilizing a combination of wired and wireless solutions to strike a balance between functionality, scalability and reliability in their organizations' IT networks. At the same time, they're exploring viable solutions to data storage and security, taking a somewhat cautious approach to cloud computing in particular.
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A highly operational and stable network environment is critical to making sure data is available when and where you need it.
senior director of research, HIMSS Analytics
The report, "Healthcare Provider Network Solutions, Barriers and Challenges," organizes feedback HIMSS Analytics garnered from a focus group at the HIMSS 2013 Annual Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans. There, seven IT professionals from a cross section of healthcare organizations -- from a single hospital system with 380 beds to a 10-hospital integrated delivery network -- came together to benchmark current network initiatives, as well as pinpoint potential future problems.
Almost all of the participants described their present network environment as a mix of wired and wireless solutions, with the number of wireless devices growing exponentially. The majority of the group, especially those relying on older technology, expressed concern about their networks' ability to cope with the increased demands brought on by wireless technology. Many cited wireless "drop zones" (areas where a wireless network was not available) as the main challenge they're grappling with now. Next to that was the lack of vendor options for certain outlying organizations, as well as ongoing efforts to regulate wireless access so employees are discouraged from using the Internet for personal reasons.
Security -- specifically, in cloud computing -- also was named a top concern. Several participants said they felt comfortable with the idea of a cloud if it was privately hosted by their software vendor or if they intended to use it for business-related information only, such as HR training videos. But most said they would not store patient personal health information in the cloud because they would lose control of where that data is stored. Organizations also are struggling to find cloud vendors willing to sign a business associate agreement, a requirement resulting from the latest omnibus rule, which expands HIPAA compliance to business associates of covered entities.
Jennifer Horowitz, HIMSS Analytics senior director of research, moderated the focus group, and said many of the challenges the participants identified are also found in the broader IT marketplace. In the latest HIMSS Analytics leadership survey, securing information on mobile devices topped the security concerns of 298 respondents.
"One of the things I took away from all the research is for organizations to look at the solutions available to them in their area. A highly operational and stable network environment is critical to making sure data is available when and where you need it," Horowitz told SearchHealthIT. "As organizations are trying to successfully move forward in scaling, they need to make sure they're engaging their executive team as well, so they know why they need to make the investments they do in their network."