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SharePoint for healthcare aids HIPAA compliance, workflow automation

Hospital IT may have a love-hate relationship with SharePoint, but features like Information Rights Management can help ensure the security of PHI and other health data.

In most healthcare organizations, IT is responsible for implementing tools that can manage digital assets outside of the EHR and other clinical and billing data. Organizations have typically used Microsoft SharePoint for enterprise content management, and over the years IT has come to either love or loathe the platform. However, as we look back at the changes Microsoft has made to SharePoint and other Office 365 services, IT departments across several healthcare organizations may want to reconsider their opinions of the platform. 

When it comes to the use of SharePoint for healthcare in the last 10 years or so, the stand-alone platform has not seen a significant amount of change outside of small enhancements and periodic upgrades. More features were added when Microsoft began to offer SharePoint as a service as part of its Office 365 suite. As a result, many organizations are re-evaluating their existing SharePoint installation and are actively seeking to understand how the new features could impact them, and if they can justify an upgrade to SharePoint 2016 or a migration to SharePoint Online. The following list highlights some of the new features that IT will find valuable to their end users when it comes to using SharePoint for healthcare.

Compliance and security features to support HIPAA

Over the years, hospitals have had to adopt many third-party tools to ensure that health data stored within their networks or inside SharePoint is adequately protected. The use of third-party tools brought some complexity around how to manage different tools to support HIPAA compliance. Microsoft has streamlined data security and compliance features within SharePoint Online, and IT administrators can look to the new SharePoint platform for capabilities that are robust and easier to manage and support. A new feature, Advanced Security Management, can detect if data being uploaded contains sensitive information such as PHI and either block it or alert the end user. Another feature, Information Rights Management, ensures that any content containing PHI that is being shared outside the organization is automatically encrypted and protected.

Enhanced workflows to go beyond basic automation

When it comes to day-to-day activities within a hospital, there are many business processes that can be streamlined or automated. In the past, SharePoint offered some of these capabilities that IT could help support and develop, but that were limited in some cases since they required SharePoint developers to build integrations and connectors. SharePoint Online offers tools that help support automation and allow end users to build their own automation and workflows without any development or technical know-how. The integration of SharePoint and Microsoft Flow helps deliver a more robust and meaningful automation. Users can build a workflow that can notify users of certain insurance authorization approvals, or notify hospital staff when on-call schedules change.   

Hospital users can build their own custom apps

Ever since SharePoint began supporting data collection forms using InfoPath, organizations have quickly adopted its use and the concept of using online forms to collect information from hospital employees. Unfortunately, the build of these forms required specific skill sets and were mostly maintained by developers or SharePoint administrators. But as hospital IT leadership considers the new capabilities supported in the new SharePoint, along with Microsoft PowerApps, they now have access to a new way of empowering their users to build their own collection forms or mobile apps without any coding. Users can quickly develop forms related to clinical research, advanced patient intake forms and hospital asset tracking apps using PowerApps. These apps can be shared across SharePoint or mobile devices to allow multiple users to interact with them.

Support for more meaningful content in SharePoint pages

Since SharePoint is an intranet site where employees can gain access to their corporate data, SharePoint webpages offer administrators new ways to bring in content from various sources and share them across different pages on the site. Rich content delivered as part of different webpages for different audiences proves to be a valuable enhancement. Some of the web parts include: support for Power BI analytics, additional support for native video like Stream or Microsoft Video and Hero Layout for content. To make the most of SharePoint for healthcare, some hospitals also use its web parts for MIPS reporting, which allows staff to view their overall progress around different initiatives.

Improved end-user experience

Microsoft also made changes to the look and feel of SharePoint. The new edition of SharePoint provides administrators with a new way to deliver webpage layouts, formatting and other visualizations without the need for HTML or CSS expertise. The addition of a mobile experience, combined with easy to customize and build webpages that include ready-to-go templates, has promised to deliver an enhanced experience to end users. For hospitals where most care providers are meeting with patients and are constantly on the go, tablets or smartphones allow them to access information immediately, further improving their productivity.

Right now, most organizations that have been using SharePoint for healthcare for a few years have invested significantly in an outdated version of the platform. While there is an upgrade or migration path that requires the use of third-party tools, there is a need for hospital IT to look at SharePoint from a different perspective. Hospital IT will need to forget everything they think know about SharePoint for healthcare, and consider what the new capabilities can deliver as far as automation, better end-user experience and enhanced collaboration.

This was last published in January 2018

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