Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – Obstacles to Compliance in the Healthcare Industry

Most of the regulatory compliance issues we talked about concerning spreadsheets have been related to financial data. But there are other kinds of data that are stored in spreadsheets which may also cause regulatory problems in the future.

In the US, a legislation known as HIPAA or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is changing the way health care establishments and practitioners handle patient records. The HIPAA Privacy Rule is aimed at protecting the privacy of individually identifiable health information a.k.a. protected health information (PHI).

Examples of PHI include common identifiers like a patient’s name, address, Social Security Number, and so on, which can be used to identify the patient. HIPAA covers a wide range of health care organisations and service providers, including: health plan payers, health care clearing houses, hospitals, doctors, dentists, etc.

To protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI, covered entities are required to implement technical policies such as access controls, authentication, and audit controls. These can easily be implemented on server-based systems.

Sad to say, many health care organisations who have started storing data electronically still rely on spreadsheet-based systems. Those policies are hard to implement in spreadsheet-based systems, where files are handled by end-users who are overloaded with their main line of work (i.e. health care) and have very little concern for data security.

In some of these systems, spreadsheet files containing PHI may have multiple versions in different workstations. Chances are, none of these files have any access control or user authentication mechanism whatsoever. Thus, changes can easily be made without proper documentation as to who carried out the changes.

And because the files are normally easily accessible, unauthorised disclosures – whether done intentionally or accidentally – will always be a lingering threat. Remember that HIPAA covered entities who are caught disclosing PHI can be fined from $50,000 up to $500,000 plus jail time.

But that’s not all. Through the HITECH Act of 2009, business associates of covered entities will now have to comply with HIPAA standards as well. Business associates are those companies who are performing functions and services for covered entities.

Examples of business associates are accounting firms, law firms, consultants, and so on. They automatically need to comply with the standards the moment they too deal with PHI.

 

More Spreadsheet Blogs

 

Spreadsheet Risks in Banks

 

Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

 

Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry

 

How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud

 

Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence

 

Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?

 

Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

 

Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment

 

Spreadsheet Fraud

 

Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework

 

Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations

 

Spreadsheet Risk Issues

 

Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back

 

Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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Data Replication

Medical Data Form

These days, not many companies can continue to operate once their entire computer system goes down. All the information needed in daily operations are stored in databases while the interfaces that make use of them all come in the form of software applications.

Software applications can be rapidly reinstalled and configured for as long as the necessary programs are available. Data, however, cannot be reconstructed as quickly even with hard copies available. It is therefore necessary to store your data in a replicated setup so that when one section goes down, operations can proceed without interruption.

For instance, if a category 5 hurricane renders your main office useless, you can simply rent workstations elsewhere, connect to the Internet and continue with your usual transactions for as long as data is readily accessible.

So how do we ensure the accessibility and reliability of your data? Here’s what we’ll do:

  • Activate data replication on your database management system. If your DBMS does not support replication, we’ll migrate all your data to one that does.
  • If absolutely necessary, we can allow modernised systems to run parallel to your legacy systems and prepare both for full modernisation when you’re ready.
  • Implement fail-over technologies where applicable to provide for automatic switching to a backup data server or network from one that has just failed.

We can also assist you with the following:

How DevOps Could Change Your Business

Henry Ford turned the U.S. auto industry on its head when he introduced the idea of prefabricating components at remote sites, and then putting them together on a production line. Despite many industries following suit, software lagged behind until 2008, when Andrew Clay Shafer and Patrick Debois told the Agile Conference there was a better way to develop code:
– Write the Code
– Test the Code
– Use the Code
– Evaluate, Schedule for Next Review

The term ?DevOps? is short for Development and Operations. It first appeared in Belgium, where developers refined Shafer and Depois? ideas. Since then, DevOps became a counter movement against the belief that software development is a linear process and has largely overwhelmed it.

DevOps – A Better Way

DevOps emerged at an exciting time in the IT industry, with new technology benefiting from a faster internet. However, the 2008 world recession was also beginning to bite. Developers scampered to lower their human resource costs and get to market sooner.

The DevOps method enabled them to colloborate across organizational boundaries and work together to write, quality assure and performance test each piece of code produced in parallel.
DevOps? greater time-efficiency got them to market sooner and helped them steal a march on the competition.

There are many advantages to DevOps when we work in this collaborative way. Cooperation improves relationships between developers, quality assurers and end users. This helps ensure a better understanding of the other drivers and a more time-effective product.

Summary of DevOps Objectives

DevOps spans the entire delivery pipeline, and increases the frequency with which progress is reviewed, and updates are deployed. The benefits of this include:

? Faster time to market and implementation

? Lower failure rate of new releases

? Shortened lead time for bug fixes and updates

The Psycho-Social Implications of DevOps

DevOps drills through organization borders and traditional work roles. Participants must welcome change and take on board new skills. Its interdepartmental approach requires closer collaboration across structural boundaries and greater focus on overarching business goals.

Outsourcing the detail to freelancers on the Internet adds a further layer of opportunity. Cultures and time zones vary, requiring advanced project management skills. Although cloud-based project management software provides adequate tools, it needs an astute mind to build teams that are never going to meet.

The DevOps movement is thus primarily a culture changer, where parties to a project accept the good intentions of their collaborators, while perhaps tactfully proposing alternatives. There is more to accepting a culture than using a new tool. We have to blend different ways of thinking together. We conclude by discussing three different methods to achieve this.

Three Ways to Deploy DevOps in your?Organisation

If you foresee regular DevOps-based projects, consider running your entire organisation through an awareness program to redirect thinking. This will help non-participants understand why DevOps members may be ?off limits? when they are occupied with project work. Outsourcing tasks to contracting freelancers can mitigate this effect.

There are three implementation models associated with DevOps although these are not mutually exclusive.

? Use systems thinking. Adopt DevOps as company culture and apply it to every change regardless of whether the process is digital, or not

? Drive the process via increased understanding and feedback from key receivers. Allow this to auto-generate participative DevOps projects

? Adopt a continuous improvement culture. DevOps is not only for mega upgrades. Feedback between role players is paramount for success everywhere we go.

You can use the DevOps concept everywhere you go and whenever you need a bridge to better understanding of new ideas. We diminish DevOps when we restrict its usefulness to the vital role it plays in software development. The philosophy behind it belongs in every business.

ecoVaro to tackle water stress

For many people within the UK, water is not really something to worry about. Surely enough of it falls out the sky throughout the year that it does feel highly unlikely that we?ll ever run out of it. There certainly does seem to be an abundance of Branded Water available in plastic bottles on our supermarket shelves.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ? Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Despite this, Once-unthinkable water crises are becoming commonplace.  If you consider that In England and Wales, we use 16 billion litres of clean drinking water every day ? that’s equivalent to 6,400 Olympic sized swimming pools.

Currently, water companies can provide slightly more than we need ? 2 billion litres are available above and beyond what we’re using.  In some areas, though, such as south east England, there is no surplus and, as such, these regions are more likely to face supply restrictions in a dry year.

If we take little moment to reflect on some of the most notable water related stories over the past few years, we’ll start to get a picture of just how real the potential and the threat of water shortages can be.

Reservoirs in Chennai, India?s sixth-largest city, are nearly dry right now. Last year, residents of Cape Town, South Africa narrowly avoided their own Day Zero water shut-off.

It was only year before that, Rome rationed water to conserve scarce resources.

Climate change is likely to mean higher temperatures which may drive up the demand for water (alongside population growth) and increase evaporation from reservoirs and water courses during spring and summer.

The impact of climate change on total rainfall is uncertain, but the rain that does fall is likely to arrive in heavier bursts in winter and summer. Heavier rain tends to flow off land more quickly into rivers and out to sea, rather than recharging groundwater aquifers.

A greater chance of prolonged dry periods is also conceivable.  This combined with the harsh reality that no human population can sustain itself without sufficient access to fresh water.

If present conditions continue, 2 out of 3 people on Earth will live within a water-stressed zone by 2025

What is water stress?

Water stress is a term used to describe situation when demand for water is greater than the amount of water available at a certain period in time, and also when water is of poor quality and this restricts its usage. Water stress means deterioration in both the quantity of available water and the quality of available water due to factors affecting available water.

Water stress refers to the ability, or lack thereof, to meet human and ecological demand for water. Compared to scarcity, water stress is a more inclusive and broader concept.

Water Stress considers several physical aspects related to water resources, including water scarcity, but also water quality, environmental flows, and the accessibility of water.

Supply and Demand

Major factors involved when water scarcity strikes is when a growing populations demand for water exceeds the areas ability to service that need.

Increased food production and development programs also lead to increased demand for water, which ultimately leads to water stress.

Increased need for agricultural irrigation in order to produce more crops or sustain livestock are major contributors to localised water stress.

Overconsumption

The demand for water in a given population is fairly unpredictable.  Primarily, based on the fact that you can never accurately predict human behaviour and changes in climate.

If too many people are consuming more water than they need because they mistakenly believe that water is freely available and plentiful, then water stress could eventually occur.

This is also linked to perceived economic prosperity of a give region.  Manufacturing demand for water can have huge impact regardless whether water is actively used within the manufacturing process or not.

Water Quality

Water quality in any given area is never static.  Water stress could happen as a result of rising pollution levels having a direct impact on water quality.

Water contamination happens when new industries either knowingly or unknowingly contaminate water with their industrial practices.

Largely, this can happen and frequently does so because these industries do not take effective control of monitoring and managing their impact on communal water supplies.  Incorrectly assuming this is the responsibility of an additional third party like the regional water company.

The truth is, water quality and careful monitoring of it is all of our responsibility.

Water Scarcity

Simple increases in demand for water can in itself contribute to water scarcity. However,  these are often preceded by other factors like poverty or just the natural scarcity of water in the area.

In many instances, the initial locations of towns or cities were not influenced by the close proximity of natural resources like water, but rather in pursuit of the extraction of other resources like Gold, Coal or Diamonds.

For Instance, Johannesburg,  South Africa is the largest City in South Africa and is one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is also located in the mineral rich Witwatersrand range of hills and is the centre of large-scale gold and diamond trade.

Johannesburg is also one of the only major cities of the world that was not built on a river or harbour.   However, it does have streams that contribute to two of Southern Africas mightiest rivers – Limpopo and the Orange rivers.  However, most of the springs from which many of these streams emanate are now covered in concrete!

Water Stress and Agriculture

Peter Buss, co-founder of Sentek Technology calls ground moisture a water bank and manufactures ground sensors to interrogate it. His hometown of Adelaide is in one of the driest states in Australia. This makes monitoring soil water even more critical, if agriculture is to continue. Sentek has been helping farmers deliver optimum amounts of water since 1992.

The analogy of a water bank is interesting. Agriculturists must ?bank? water for less-than-rainy days instead of squeezing the last drop. They need a stream of real-time data and utilize cloud-based storage and processing power to curate it.

Sentek?s technology can be found in remote places like Peru?s Atacamba desert and the mountains of Mongolia, where it supports sustainable floriculture, forestry, horticulture, pastures, row crops and viticulture through precise delivery of scarce water.

This relies on precision measurement using a variety of drill and drop probes with sensors fixed at 4? / 10cm increments along multiples of 12? / 30cm up to 4 times. These probe soil moisture, soil temperature and soil salinity, and are readily repositioned to other locations as crops rotate.

Peter Buss is convinced that measurement is a means to an end and only the beginning. ?Too often, growers start watering when plants don’t really need it, wasting water, energy, and labour. By accurately monitoring water can be saved until when the plant really needs it.

Peter also emphasises that crop is the ultimate sensor, and that ?we should ask the plant what it needs?.

This takes the debate a stage further. Water wise farmers should plant water-wise crops, not try to close the stable door after the horse has bolted and dry years return.

The South Australia government thinks the answer also lies in correct farm dam management. It wants farmers to build ones that allow sufficient water to bypass in order to sustain the natural environment too.

There is more to water management than squeezing the last drop. Soil moisture goes beyond measuring for profit. It is about farming sustainably using data from sensors to guide us.

Ecovaro is ahead of the curve as we explore imaginative ways to exploit the data these provide for the common good of all.

A Quarter of the World?s Population, Face High Water Stress

Data from WRI?s Aqueduct tools reveal that 17 countries ? home to one-quarter of the world?s population?face ?extremely high? levels of baseline water stress, where irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year. 

Water stress poses serious threats to human lives, livelihoods and business stability. It’s poised to worsen unless countries act: Population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanization are increasing water demands, while climate change can make precipitation and demand more variable.  

How to manage water stress

Water stress is just one dimension of water security. However, like any challenge, its outlook depends on adequate monitoring and management of environmental data.

Even countries with relatively high water stress have effectively secured their water supplies through proper management by leveraging the knowledge they have garnered by learning from the data they gathered.

3 ways to help reduce water stress

In any geography, water stress can be reduced by measures ranging from common sense to innovative technology solutions.

There are countless solutions, but here are three of the most straightforward:

1. Increase agricultural efficiency: The world needs to make every drop of water go further in its food systems. Farmers can use seeds that require less water and improve their irrigation techniques by using precision watering rather than flooding their fields.

Businesses need to increase investments to improve water productivity, while engineers develop technologies that improve efficiency in agriculture.

Consumers can reduce food loss and waste, which uses one-quarter of all agricultural water.

2. Invest in grey and green infrastructure:  D Data produced by Aqueduct Alliance  –  shows that water stress can vary tremendously over the year.  WRI and the World Bank?s research shows that built infrastructure (like pipes and treatment plants) and green infrastructure (like wetlands and healthy watersheds) can work in tandem to tackle issues of both water supply and water quality.

3. Treat, reuse and recycle:  We need to stop thinking of wastewater as waste.

Treating and reusing it creates a ?new? water source.

There are also useful resources in wastewater that can be harvested to help lower water treatment costs. For example, plants in Xiangyang, China and Washington, D.C. reuse or sell the energy- and nutrient-rich byproducts captured during wastewater treatment.

Summary

The data is undeniably clear, there are very worrying trends in water.

Businesses and other other organisations need to start taking action now and investing in better monitoring and management, we can solve water issues for the good of people, economies and the planet. We collectively cannot kick this can down the road any further, or assume that this problem will be solved by others.

It is time, for a collective sense of responsibility and for everyone to invest in future prosperity of our Planet as a collective whole.  Ecological preservation should be at the forefront of all business plans because at the end of the day profit is meaningless without an environment to enjoy it in!

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