How to do it ... IT hardware

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Information technology today has become sophisticated and complex. With many long-term care facilities now facing looming mandates to adopt electronic medical records, security and reliability of hardware is a paramount concern. Careful infrastructure planning and hardware acquisition will help meet these challenges.

1. Proper planning and research are essential to ensuring you maximize your investment in IT hardware. 

“Visit other facilities and see what they're using. Seek referrals and contact state and local associations because all of the top IT vendors attend their trade shows and they're aware of them,” advises Kevin Staley, president and CEO, Integrated Health Systems Inc. Staley also advises a cloud-based approach to storing data to protect sensitive information from being hacked or hogging valuable hard drive space. 

He also recommends avoiding a piecemeal approach to hardware acquisition and ensuring top-level management support for your IT infrastructure plan.

2. Build redundancy into your hardware infrastructure and ensure you have a backup plan, Staley adds. Wired hardware should have a wireless backup and vice versa to ensure redundancy in the event of a connection problem. 

Robert Davis, CEO of Optimus EMR Inc. recommends planning for Internet problems.

“To prevent downtime from Internet outages, the best solution is a failover device inside the facility LAN/WAN that allows for full functionality when the Internet is down,” he says.

3. Experts advise working with vendors with experience in the long-term care realm. “Avoid selecting a generic solution over a solution that is purpose-built to meet the needs of your industry,” advises Derrick Cobey, chief technology officer, Harmony Information Systems Inc. “This approach significantly decreases the risk and costs facilities face when maintaining their own information technology hardware.” 

Adds Michelle Markey, a spokesperson for American HealthTech: “Ideally, all [hardware] devices should be supported by the software vendor. This helps mitigate challenges in system compatibility and performance.”

4. Invest wisely in your IT hardware infrastructure, experts caution. Louis Hyman, chief technology officer of SigmaCare, strongly advises facilities to invest only in business-class hardware. 

“A lot of times, customers will go for the consumer brands and end up having a pile of non-working laptops in the corner,” Hyman observes. 

Budgeting for IT hardware entails being acutely aware of lifecycle costs.

“The lifespan of a kiosk, laptop, nursing station, or other highly used device is ideally three years or less and no more than five years,” says Chris Bingham, vice president, Infrastructure, HealthMEDX. “Specialized devices like tablets and mobile solutions may have an even shorter lifespan,” Bingham adds. “A good device management strategy will ensure the costs of maintaining and managing legacy systems along with the costs of loss productivity will outweigh the expense of maintenance and upgrades prior to expiration of the optimal lifespan.”

5. One of the best ways to maintain your hardware investment is to keep your operating system, firewall and anti-virus software updated on a regular basis, experts say. 

In addition, take appropriate measures to ensure employees don't customize workstations with software add-ons or preferences — actions that could expose your system to vulnerabilities or hinder software performance. 

“A lot of times, the operating system can cause problems if it's not locked down, allowing employees to download their own software, change settings or customize it to their needs,” says Hyman. 

“This can interrupt critical updates or virus program scans and downloads. These kinds of things can seriously downgrade the performance of the hardware, and in some ways, the software running on it.”

It is almost inescapable that the success of any software package is contingent upon reliable, appropriate hardware. To fall short here is  to set oneself up for failure. 

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Mistakes to avoid

- Choosing off-the-shelf consumer instead of business class hardware

- Taking a piecemeal approach instead of a well-conceived infrastructure plan

- Failing to have adequate backup plans and redundancy systems


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