The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, reports 7,000 healthcare workers have died since the pandemic outbreak, while another 136 million health and social care workers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 through their work. During the pandemic, healthcare workers have been under great duress for over a year, working more than one shift, changing shifts and locations, and traveling between hospital and urgent care sites to handle the extreme overload of patients. Over the course of their long days, they are sharing devices and systems to access clinical applications, medical records, and critical information on their patients.
Healthcare workers need whatever device they use or share to be able to recognize their user profile and enable secure, rapid access to all the data and applications they need — access that nowadays is so often occurring in a crisis environment. Whether they’re switching devices and/or workstations they need their own individual settings (e.g. keyboard language, mouse-button configuration for right/left-handed operation, session types) to be available.
Roaming clinicians and staff require stellar application performance and access to electronic health records and tools whether they are on-site, in remote clinics, or in the case of the pandemic, at sites set up to handle patient overload. The shared devices and workstations they use must also protect against HIPAA compliance violations. To achieve this, controls and user authentication tailored to clinician roaming environments must be fully deployed to ensure appropriate access by policy while protecting patient privacy.
Shifting to the Future
COVID-19 essentially threw healthcare workers’ schedules up in the air. Staff working a regular shift found they had to work considerable overtime, past regular shift hours. Those who normally worked to fill in, or were part-time, were called in for varied shift times. As the pandemic winds down, the healthcare industry is taking a look at how to provide a safer, less stressful environment for healthcare workers in the future, mindful that the work, even in normal times, creates physical and mental health stressors, as burnout is a common effect of shift work.
Shift working will hopefully resume a somewhat more predictable routine, but the reality is shift working is an essential part of delivering high-quality, 24×7 health care, and staff roaming between sites and workstations will continue. Shift work is also a hallmark of the registered nurses profession which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
Roaming physicians. Nurses working around the clock. Support staff working varied shifts. This is the present and future of healthcare. While we can’t fully solve for serious concerns like burnout and stress-related mental health issues, those of us in the IT community can do our best to make the shared workspace and information flow aspect of a healthcare worker’s job as seamless, secure, and stress-free as possible.
To achieve the best-shared device environment, achieving secure. efficient access, and a productive user experience, these elements should be considered:
The endpoint operating system and its management software must be able to support a shared workplace. It should allow for user-dependent configuration based on profiles and configuration settings that can be linked to user accounts within Active Directory. This enables different people to use the same device with their own individual settings, or in roaming environments, where users frequently switch workstations.
Centralized management and control of the endpoints enables a single IT administrator to easily manage and configure all endpoints, from a single console, with profile-based drag-and-drop configuration and management, along with automated and scheduled administrator functions. IT staff can also easily set and apply policies by role, function, department, etc., for granular control of all the managed endpoints. Particularly for group workstations in hospitals, this control is essential to enabling a customized user experience, while at the same time, maintaining full management and control.
Easy user access is critical to physicians and shift workers being able to quickly get to work, at whatever device and location they’re using that day. Single sign-on (SSO) is a good example: through their endpoint operating system tightly integrated with leading SSO technologies like Imprivata OneSign®, physicians, nurses and clinicians can quickly and securely access clinical applications and critical patient information. They can then concentrate on patient care, rather than worry about lost passwords and multiple logins.
Active Directory is where the users’ profiles and policy settings oftentimes reside and is the gateway to a worker being able access the applications, files and data they need to do their job. Privileged users and groups are designated within Active Directory and there are many variants of privileged access within and outside of Active Directory. Given HIPAA compliance and other regulations, and governance objectives, it is advised to regularly revisit access privileges to ensure access controls are current.
Cloud and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) data storage is key to making sure the network edge is more secure, and the healthcare system can stay in compliance with HIPAA, GDPR and other regulations. Whether a worker is using their own PC with a USB drive, or switching between workstations during the day, data is secure because it is stored in the cloud and virtually — not on the endpoint device.
Security vigilance should contemplate end-to-end system integrity with a ‘chain of trust’ process in which all components of the cloud or VDI workspace flow are subject to validation each step of the way. Beginning with hardware or the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), each discrete step validates the cryptographic signature of the next and starts only if signed by a trusted party.
Better Experience, Better Outcomes
Providing healthcare workers a secure, no-stress means of applying their user profile and accessing their data and applications is the best thanks IT innovators can give people who have worked through the last year of crisis care — the most exhausting and arduous year at work many will ever have to endure.
Going forward, we know shift work and shared workplaces will continue to be a basic part of any healthcare system’s delivery model. As workers toggle back and forth between shifts and workstations, IT can ensure access controls are up to date for personnel, data is being stored securely in the cloud or VDI, and practices like single sign-on facilitate healthcare staff’s easy access to their much-needed data.
An endpoint operating system designed for accessing cloud workspaces with superb endpoint management and control, combined with an excellent user experience has a direct impact on patient outcomes and plays a strategic role in meeting high standards for patient confidentiality and data protection. And it can hopefully make work (and life) just a bit easier for valiant healthcare workers.