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Nov 2 2012   12:01PM GMT

Secure file transfer protocol Q&A

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
EMR, file transfer protocol, FTP, HIPAA compliance, secure file transfer

Guest post: Answers by Scott Bolser, messaging and collaboration team leader, Boston Children’s Hospital

1. Health care facilities need secure technologies for HIPAA compliance and electronic patient record retrieval, and for other data-sensitive  activities  impacting doctors and patients on a daily basis. What options are available to health care organizations?

There are a number of technologies available and some that are starting to emerge.  It all depends on the type of data that needs to be shared. Does the data pertain to the patient’s medical record? Is it research data or other analytical data as part of study?

Massachusetts just went live with a new health information exchange (HIE) program that enables providers to exchange electronic health data with other providers directly.

Other options for securely transmitting sensitive data include secure file transfer protocol (FTP), managed file transfer (MFT), secure email solutions, file synchronization products, and even traditional or electronic fax.

2. What should health care organizations consider when investing in a technology?

Ease of use should be a major factor. A project will fail if a product or process is too complicated or there are incompatibilities between the sending and receiving systems or users. Services like secure FTP, managed file transfer, and secure email solutions are great for ad-hoc projects and communications.

HIE initiatives such as the Massachusetts “Golden Spike” effort will provide better patient and provider electronic data exchange.

3. Why is secure file transfer technology a valued method for health care companies?

Secure file transfer or managed file transfer solutions play an integral role to efficiently send sensitive information between health care organizations for collaborative use.  In our organization, we provide the ability for a Boston Children’s Hospital employee to send a large file or files securely by simply using a web browser. There is no special software to download or install.  The recipient receives an email with a link to setup an account, view any secure messages, and download their file(s). The recipient can upload changes or additional files if necessary, in a collaborative setting.

4. What are a hospital’s main “pain” points (for example, the need to send large files, ability to collaborate with other institutions, etc.) and how are they dealing with them?

The biggest challenge for any hospital with an electronic medical record (EMR) system in place is to securely exchange EMR data with another institution for continuation of care. If patient A is transferred from one hospital to another, it’s far more efficient send everything that was done in a single electronic data interchange which can be imported into the receiving hospital’s EMR even if they use an entirely different system or vendor.

Progress is being made towards a universally accepted and regulated data exchange protocol and solution such as those used within the banking industry.

Managed file transfer (MFT) products are a great fit in the health care industry especially within a organization with research personnel.  Research data is often very large (10GB to over 100GB in some instances) and traditional methods such as secure email often don’t allow for large attachments. MFT solutions allow an organization to securely send and receive large amounts of data while complying with HIPAA guidelines.

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