Cambridge Memorial provides remote access for Mac users

Cambridge Memorial Hospital has put Macintosh users on an equal footing with Windows users for remote access to hospital systems by implementing a New Brunswick company’s secure access system.

The Cambridge, Ont., hospital’s Meditech health information system supports remote access from computers running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system, but it couldn’t do the same for Apple Computer Inc.’s Macintosh, says Ed Norwich, manager of information technology management at the 180-bed hospital. Since a number of doctors in the area use Macs, Norwich wanted to fill that gap.

Then he had a visit from AnyWare Group, a Saint John, N.B.-based access services and software provider. “In 15 minutes they convinced me,” Norwich says. Cambridge Memorial began testing AnyWare’s Role Oriented Access Management (ROAM) system late last year and went live with a limited number of users in April.

Today the hospital has about 200 people, mostly physicians, using the ROAM system, but that will increase to around 1,400 in the next month or so and about 1,500 by the end of the year, Norwich says.

Not only doctors but nurses and administrative staff will be able to use ROAM to connect from anywhere to the systems they need to use.

One of the key capabilities of ROAM is its ability to provide different users access to different systems depending on their needs and privileges, says Gerry Verner, AnyWare’s chief executive. That’s critical for hospitals, which tend to have many different systems and significant privacy requirements, he says. “A physician wouldn’t be allowed access to the human resources system, for example, or vice-versa – a human resources person couldn’t get into the imaging system.”

Verner says ROAM incorporates a Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Network (SSL VPN), which allows secure remote access to computer systems without the need to install special software on the client PC. That means a person with a ROAM account can connect through any computer with a Web browser – including a Mac, Verner notes.

(ROAM can also provide limited support for handheld devices with Web browsers, Verner adds, but this is still under development.)

The VPN component is important, but “we really like to think of it as a lot more than VPN,” Verner says. The other key capabilities are identity management and a personalized portal, meaning that users can be given access to different systems based on their roles and they will see their options on a personalized portal screen when they connect to ROAM.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital uses ROAM on a subscription basis, which means “I don’t have to buy anything,” says Norwich. Verner explains that requests for access are routed to AnyWare control centres for validation, and then a direct connection is established between the remote computer and the hospital’s data centre, so health-care data doesn’t pass through AnyWare’s servers.

Privacy legislation imposes strict requirements on the health-care sector to control who has access to patient data and keep precise records. Verner says this is one reason health-care providers are interested in ROAM. Norwich says Cambridge Memorial already has a strong security regime in place, but ROAM provides an additional level of security and auditability.

Cambridge is currently using the system only for remote access, but is testing it for internal access as well and plans to move to using ROAM for all access to its systems, says Norwich. The hospital is also experimenting with Web conferencing facilities built into ROAM. “It appears to be a viable product built into the backbone of the portal,” says Norwich.

One thing ROAM can’t do for physicians at Cambridge General is aggregate patient data from multiple databases in a viewer or dashboard. That’s a capability Norwich thinks the hospital may want in the future, but he says it could be added as a separate piece that would work with the remote access service.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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