IT & Communications
Midwifery practices, like all health-care organizations, are increasingly dependent on information technology systems such as cell phones, scheduling software, hospital electronic medical records (EMRs), central repositories of hospital or practice protocols, or social media. These technologies bring great advancements in the accessibility of information, but also bring risks with them.
Considerations when Purchasing New Systems
Factors to consider when purchasing and integrating communication systems into the practice include:
- available funding and cost;
- present systems in the practice and their strengths and weaknesses;
- integration of new systems with older systems in the practice;
- with whom the practice needs to communicate;
- the practice’s potential for growth;
- expertise that will be required to effectively utilize and maintain the system;
- security needs;
- training needed/available;
- consider whether free alternatives will meet the need (e.g., the Ontario Laboratory Information Service) and
- potential to move the system to new space if necessary.
Many experts recommend choosing software before purchasing the computer hardware needed to run it. Some of the more common software programs that practices use are able to accommodate tasks such as client databases, accounting, word processing, PowerPoint presentations, email, calendar and address books, website development and maintenance, scheduling, and even EMRs.
Sometimes professional advisors may have a preference for a specific software package (e.g., your accountant may have a preference for one type of accounting software over another. Practices will need to decide whether open source (typically free to download) software, web-based applications, or purchased software licenses will suit their needs. Similarly, many applications have varying packages and prices based on the number of users and features selected.
Rather than purchasing several separate programs, practices may find it useful to consider whether a software package will adequately meet several of the business’s requirements. Midwives may wish to ask other practices or business owners whether they are satisfied with it. Most businesses running various software packages under-utilize the potential of their investment because they don’t fully understand its capabilities.
Until 2017, the Funding Agreement outlined the equipment that was eligible for funding, which included communications systems such as a computer and software, printer, fax machine, photocopier and telephone systems. Starting in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the Funding Agreement no longer includes a list of specifically funded equipment. Instead, IT equipment replacement funding is available in each year of the three-year contract for leases, licenses, repairs, or server solutions. Although BORN has proposed funding to develop an EMR specific to midwifery, EMRs are not funded by the OMP under the current model.
Protecting Information Technology Systems
Practices invest a significant amount of money into its computer system and it is essential that this investment is protected, not only to ensure there is no damage to the hardware and software, but also to protect the integrity of the data, some of which may be personal health information. When purchasing a computer and software, and setting up your system, consider the following:
- Ensuring an uninterrupted power source. In some areas there may be power failures or surges in the current, which is why a surge protector and/or battery backup may be important to purchase.
- Capability for backing up program systems and files.
- Software offering anti-virus protection. Viruses are common and can easily be attached to incoming e-mails, downloaded files, or discs used on the system. At the least they can a nuisance, but can also be extremely harmful to the system. Consider obtaining insurance against cyber losses.
- Software providing privacy and firewall protection. Firewalls and security settings help to prevent incoming viruses, limit spam (i.e., electronic junk mail), spyware (technology that enters your system and gathers information about an organization or person, slowing down the operations of the system), and ransomware (that encrypts electronic files as hackers try to extort money).
- Comply with legal obligations under Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)
- Use software to encrypt any sensitive information on discs, hard drives, or USB keys (e.g., personal health information).
- Downloading and installing security patches designed for the operating system purchased.
Developing a practice policy regarding computer and IT maintenance that should address security issues such as ensuring and protecting equipment from damage and theft; use of and regularly updating of passwords; rules regarding access to websites and downloading attachments.
Social media, whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another platform, provides an opportunity to spread awareness about the practice group, share information on key issues, and mobilize supporters for advocacy movements. However, like all information technology, the misuse of social media (whether a practice account or midwife accounts) can have dire professional consequences. For some health professionals, inappropriate use of social media has led to regulatory investigations, expulsion from educational programs, breaches of privacy laws, hospital discipline, termination of contracts, medico-legal risk, or harmed reputations. Consider these recommendations from the AOM when using social media.