Single sign-on system key to successful, secure EMR deployment

Single sign-on systems give caregivers easy access to clinical applications and make them more likely to embrace EMR systems, one hospital CIO discovered.

In this tip, the CIO of a 55-bed hospital in Maine explains how a single sign-on system for the hospital's electronic medical record deployment not only improved access to clinical applications but also eased caregivers' concerns about using EMR systems.

Parkview Adventist Medical Center was midcoast Maine's first modern medical facility when it opened in Brunswick in 1959. Today, Parkview is a 55-bed acute care hospital with six affiliated physician practices. Recognized for delivering the industry's highest quality of patient care, we also are known for achieving IT efficiencies. In addition to boosting productivity and increasing security, this has helped propel Parkview to HIMSS Analytics Stage 6 adoption status for EMR systems, a feat only 93 of the more than 5,000 hospitals in North America had accomplished by March.

Our move to an EMR system came well before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and was sparked simply by our desire to reduce costs, increase productivity and tighten overall security. One challenge we immediately identified was our clinicians' frustration with the number of complex passwords they were required to remember to access the information they needed. We knew clinicians would resist an EMR system, because it would exacerbate this problem and in the end, could result in users writing down or sharing passwords -- which was not acceptable.

To ensure success, we incorporated a system with strong authentication and single sign-on (SSO) that would integrate with our EMR systems and consequently improve user workflows and speed access to patient data. Only then would we realize the full benefits that using EMR systems can bring in terms of making essential data -- demographics, problem lists, medication lists, diagnostic results and so on -- available in an organized, updated format to any care provider within the hospital system.

We began the process of investigating SSO systems that would work well with our existing Meditech system from Westwood, Mass.-based Medical Information Technology Inc., as well as support finger biometrics. In the end, we selected OneSign from Imprivata Inc. because of its appliance-based approach and easy deployment -- both important considerations for a small IT department such as ours. Users enroll one or more fingerprints via a scanner, and OneSign numerically computes features from the prints. This is done both to protect the user's biometric privacy and to speed up the identification process.

To ensure success, we incorporated a system with strong authentication and single sign-on that would integrate with our EMR systems and improve user workflows and speed access to patient data.

Now our team has secure and convenient access to a full set of departmental clinical applications, advanced clinical applications, and the full suite of financial and administrative applications. Clinicians can access records by using finger biometric readers placed on stationary PCs or computers on wheels throughout the hospital and in their practices.

By embracing strong authentication and SSO as critical components of our EMR systems, we have avoided potential roadblocks. Caregivers are delighted with the new system and with the fact that they have access to all electronic patient data from any location with just a swipe of a finger. At the same time, when a doctor or nurse steps away from the screen, it is automatically wiped clean after three seconds, a feature that helps ensure compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy mandates. This implementation has saved the hospital money, improved productivity and increased security -- all of which were pivotal steps to achieving our HIMSS Analytics Stage 6 EMR recognition.

Bill McQuaid is assistant vice president and CIO at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick, Maine. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected].

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