Can EHRs Be Secure and Fast?

February 13, 2015

The EHR at my facility takes three separate login steps to get into the record to document a patient encounter or retrieve information. Is there a better way?

Are we ready to replace passwords with biometrics for access to our facilities' networks and EHRs? I know that I'm ready for something easier and more secure than my ever-changing facility login, a byproduct of being forced by the system to change my password every couple of months.

In its current iteration, the EHR at my facility takes three separate login steps to get into the record to document a patient encounter or retrieve information. This doesn't seem like much, but multiply it by 20 or 30 patients and it becomes burdensome and a significant time waster.

If a terminal is locked, I have to enter my credentials to access the system and from there, I have to enter my credentials to open the EHR. Then if I want to dictate any notes, I have to again enter my credentials to open the dictation software. It gets old in a hurry, and is a major complaint among members of the medical staff at my community hospital.

The IT team in our organization is experimenting with using the embedded "near field" chip in our ID cards as a way in which to log in to the EHR. It would be a big step forward and would eliminate the majority of authentication to access our EHR. It would also have the added advantage of encouraging all members of the medical staff to carry their hospital IDs, but not all software needed for charting supports this mode of authentication.

Fast Identity Online (FIDO) is the current buzz phrase that refers to all of the biometric authentication technology currently available or planned. We are already using our fingerprints in a variety of ways to unlock our phones and doors, and there are readily available technologies that rely on retinas, irises, face recognition, or voice recognition that are being developed to solve authentication and security problems. We have seen the future in a variety of science fiction films, and much of it is working and available technology.

While there is a tremendous upside to FIDO technology, there are also significant downsides in the form of privacy. We constantly see that passwords are not 100 percent secure, and companies tasked with protecting our personal data stored on their servers also fail. It is not too much of a stretch to raise concerns about personal biometric data being stored on vulnerable servers, and the privacy vulnerability that this represents to us all as individuals.

There should be similar concerns with biometric security data. My fingerprints are stored on my phone as a security measure, but could an enterprising criminal find a way to use that data to reconstruct my fingerprints?

As always, computer technology and software are well ahead of privacy protections and personal security, and will remain so for some time, possibly forever.

To make it work on an EHR, we need enterprise level solutions, as the thought of customizing my FIDO login separately at each terminal in the hospital, defeats the purpose and intent of making this simultaneously easier and more secure.

It seems that an enterprising technology company would see the opportunity in allowing medical providers to quickly and securely sign into an EHR. I know that there are a lot of smart people working on this problem in an attempt to make this both easier and more secure for those of us in the trenches.

As the pace of technology development and implementation becomes more rapid, so does the need for increasing security and privacy, as well as reducing the technological burden on the healthcare providers who daily have the use this technology in the performance of their jobs. These competing trends get more important everyday as the penetration of the EHR becomes more ubiquitous.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.