As a highly regulated sector reliant upon a complex set of software applications and services — many of them now in the cloud — the health care sector faces an ongoing challenge maintaining its security and compliance postures while also modernizing its operations. Between 2019 and 2026, the healthcare cloud computing market is expected to triple in size to over $60 billion as more providers explore new ways to manage patient data — for instance, via electronic health records (EHRs) — deliver improved care and scale their IT infrastructures accordingly.
Automation solutions such as the Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform have become increasingly important fixtures of health care IT in this context, to help maximize new and existing technological investments and — crucially — to reduce the dangers stemming from high-risk, low-efficiency manual processes. Even as health care IT rapidly evolves, these processes still abound, from hospital back offices all the way to patient waiting rooms.
What Are the Risks of Nonautomated Workflows?
Combined with the complexity of managing new cloud deployments, nonautomated tasks put both cybersecurity and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance at heightened risk.
- In a 2020 Censinet-sponsored Ponemon Institute survey of health care executives, respondents identified “the human factor,” including highly manual workflows for risk assessments, centered on spreadsheets and emails, as their top vulnerability leading to data breaches.
- The 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon revealed that “miscellaneous errors” were the top cause of incidents in the sector, accounting for approximately one-third of all breaches there. Manual processes increase the risk of mistakes by forcing health care workers to do the same nonstrategic tasks over and over.
- Ensuring consistent compliance with HIPAA remains a struggle for many organizations, especially smaller ones with few if any dedicated IT staff members. Three-fourths of providers told Ponemon that they were understaffed, in terms of security personnel, in 2019 and had trouble finding the right candidates.
- Many health care organizations are pursuing hybrid cloud architectures. Hybrid cloud provides flexibility for managing EHRs and handling key use cases like big data analytics processing. However, these setups also increase operational complexity and place a considerable workload on overstretched IT teams. Hybrid cloud penetration in the industry could reach 37% by 2021.
To address these challenges and others, approaches such as robotic process automation (RPA) have gained steam in health care. RPA can improve particular workflows such as appointment scheduling, claims processing and the collection of analytics for more informed patient care. For example, a software bot implemented as part of an RPA initiative can comb through EHRs much more quickly and systematically than a human could, reducing both the time to completion and the overall likelihood of making a mistake along the way.
Enacting truly transformative health care automation, for improved efficiency as well as robust compliance, requires the right technology stack, though. This is where Ansible and the rest of the Red Hat ecosystem come into play.
The Benefits of Ansible in Health Care Environments
The Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform is a tool that enables infrastructure as code for straightforward application migration and process automation. In other words, it allows tasks such as system configurations for Linux and OpenShift deployments to be easily performed with software, rather than via actual adjustment of physical infrastructure. In practice, the tool is often used alongside additional Red Hat solutions as part of a collaborative DevOps methodology for driving more secure, reliable and scalable workflows.
By using Ansible plus options like Red Hat Satellite and Red Hat Insights, health care organizations can unlock benefits including:
Automation of Manual Tasks
The nonprofit health system Intermountain Healthcare used Ansible’s integration with CloudForms to automate the management of its newly virtualized IT infrastructure. This change let Intermountain reduce the time for virtual machine provisioning from multiple days to just 20 minutes, and its IT deployment time from weeks to four hours, per Red Hat’s official case study on the project.
Similarly, health information network Surescripts used Ansible Tower to manage its growing portfolio of applications, leveraging Ansible to run Ansible Playbooks across Red Hat Linux and Microsoft Windows environments and run jobs for its load balancers. Previously, it had relied on individual engineers to manually steer traffic between its data centers, with all the risks of error that such a setup entails. Ansible also helped Surescripts chart a course into the cloud.
More Streamlined HIPAA Compliance and Security
Red Hat worked directly with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP), managed by the OpenSCAP foundation. Using a combination of Red Hat tools like Ansible with OpenSCAP, it’s possible to:
- Perform rapid vulnerability scans to evaluate a health care IT environment against HIPAA-specific profiles and generate detailed reports about compliance.
- Remediate any identified issues from the scan by having OpenSCAP generate Ansible Playbooks for Ansible Automation Platform to run.
- Easily administer OpenSCAP profiles and make Ansible-driven automation a core part of every provisioning and deployment process, so that each environment is HIPAA compliant from the start.
For security, Ansible can be used to quickly administer patches and updates, so that key vulnerabilities are closed as soon as possible. Role-based access also curbs the risk of malicious misuse of Ansible Playbooks.
Superior Care for Patients
According to Red Hat, HCA Healthcare used Ansible to automate the collection, analysis and notification processes that fueled its Sepsis Prediction and Optimization of Therapy (SPOT) platform.
Traditionally, sepsis diagnosis required a manual review of charts, creating deadly delays, considering how sepsis can become up to 7% more fatal by the hour. In contrast, SPOT allows for identification of sepsis indicators almost 24 hours earlier than these methods. SPOT is powered by open-source technology, including Ansible, and uses containers and cloud computing services to efficiently process high volumes of patient data around the clock.
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