Claudia Tovar Helps Her Practice Ensure Privacy and Security of Electronic Health Information
Claudia Tovar is Office Administrator at an obstetrics and gynecology practice in Greenfield, Wisconsin, just outside of Milwaukee. Ninety percent of the practice’s patients are Spanish-speaking, and Ms. Tovar works alongside a physician, a surgical coordinator, and a medical assistant, all of whom are bilingual in both English and Spanish. The practice first adopted an electronic health record (EHR) system in 2006. When the practice decided to upgrade to a new EHR system in 2012, Ms. Tovar needed to make sure the new system was secure and protected electronic health information.
Ensuring Privacy and Security of Health Information
Throughout the upgrade to the new EHR system, Ms. Tovar led the charge to ensure the practice ensured privacy and security of patient health information. “We needed to make changes to the software to make it compliant with our practice’s privacy and security policies,” Ms. Tovar explained. This presented a challenge to Ms. Tovar and her colleagues, who were unfamiliar with the process of conducting a security risk analysis, which is intended to identify EHR security risks and is required to achieve meaningful use.
As a small practice with few resources to rely on for guidance, the process was especially difficult. To overcome this challenge, Ms. Tovar contacted her Regional Extension Center (REC), the Wisconsin Health Information Technology Extension Center (WHITEC). WHITEC helped Ms. Tovar and her colleagues formulate a step-by-step security risk analysis plan to identify security issues and develop an action plan with risk mitigation strategies. “Getting really organized and identifying all the issues can be overwhelming, but we got a lot of help from our REC,” explained Ms. Tovar. “We identified all security risks and vulnerabilities and took a step-by-step approach to fix the problems.” Ms. Tovar also reached out to her EHR vendor to help make the required security adjustments to the system. For example, the vendor helped Ms. Tovar address one security vulnerability by teaching her how to ensure the EHR system automatically logged out employees after five minutes of inactivity. “The EHR vendor was very helpful during this process,” explained Ms. Tovar.
Benefits of Health IT
The benefits of the new, secure EHR system are helping Ms. Tovar and her practice improve health care quality for their patients. “Making our EHR system more secure was a great accomplishment,” said Ms. Tovar. “And with it, we are able to provide better and safer care for our patients.”
- With the practice’s e-prescribing capabilities, providers are able to send prescriptions directly to local pharmacies. The process is efficient, secure, and helps patients keep track of their prescriptions. “We love e-prescribing, and our patients do too,” Ms. Tovar explained. “E-prescribing is more secure because we can send prescriptions directly to pharmacists.”
- Ms. Tovar and her colleagues are also providing clinical summaries to patients after each appointment. “Our patients are happy to have this information handy,” explained Ms. Tovar. “They can take clinical summaries to their primary care provider or family health provider, and this helps improve care coordination and quality.” Furthermore, the clinical summaries are helping Ms. Tovar and her colleagues engage their patients in their health and health care. With their clinical summaries, “patients often go home, research their health issues in more detail, and then call the medical assistant to ask follow-up questions,” explained Ms. Tovar.
Ultimately, for Ms. Tovar, “EHR implementation was worth the investment because improving care for our patients is our main priority.” As for the practice’s next steps with Health IT, Ms. Tovar and her colleagues plan to implement a patient portal so patients can directly access their lab results and other important information online. “We expect our patients to love the patient portal, so that is extra motivation to get started.”