Single Sign-on: A Simple Solution to the Overcomplicated Login Process for Clinicians, More Efficient Care for Patients

Throughout healthcare, especially in emergency settings, it is critical that clinicians are able to quickly attend to their patients. This goes without saying. However, in a typical hospital environment, for example, the login process for clinicians to access their care systems and applications often gets in the way of the care they can provide. Also, it's reasonable and understood that administrators within the care setting want to ensure that their network is safe, but should this get in the way of the level of care clinicians provide?

To provide proper patient care, clinicians obviously need access to the several different systems and applications utilized by the hospital, to view medical histories, dosages, allergies, medications and such. However, doing so several times a day, with every patient in each exam or hospital room, can add a tremendous amount of time to the care process and can take a great deal away from the actual patient interaction.

To compound matters, ensuring that their networks are safe, healthcare administrators often require complex passwords of their employees that need to be changed with a great deal of regularity. Thus, when a clinician needs to access the electronic health record and other hospital information systems and has to remember a different complex password for each to gain access — and this process needs to be completed numerous times per day — the time consumed and lost because of redundancy quickly reaches critical mass, especially in an emergency or critical situation.

The situation gets worse when physicians and nurses forget their credentials and become locked out of the network, making the process even longer. Especially in critical situations, every second counts. That is why simplifying access to systems is important and can save valuable time. This is time that could allow organizational leaders to provide better care for their patients.

Simple solutions, such as single sign-on software, can easily mitigate these issues and reduce the time wasted on the login process. By not implementing an SSO solution, healthcare organizations are knowingly wasting precious time that can easily be saved.

With a single sign-on solution, clinicians have a single set of credentials to log on to a computer or workstation. Once they log in one time, they are automatically signed into all authorized systems and applications when they are launched.

Though SSO offers many benefits to healthcare organizations, health IT administrators often find it difficult for them to justify implementing because of the misconceptions about single sign-on software. Administrators often believe that SSO can hinder security or that implementation will be long, expensive and drawn out.

They assume that SSO can hinder security if an unauthorized person gets ahold of the single set of credentials and can then have access to all associated applications. Though this does seem like security risk, the login process is actually streamlined for the user. Without an SSO solution, users need to remember several sets of credentials, so they often write them down and keep them nearby, leaving the network exposed and potentially ripe for breach. With SSO, users only need to remember one set of credentials, eliminating the need to write them down and ensuring the security of the network.

If the healthcare provider still feels strongly about SSO being a security risk, additional protections can be added, with solutions, such as two-factor authentication, available. This allows clinicians to swipe or place their card on the card reader in addition to entering a unique PIN. This process ensures that the user needs something physical, the card, and something from memory, the PIN, to access the network. Additionally, a second pass of the card, or removal of the card from the reader, closes all applications and logs the user of the computer.

Addressing the concern that the implementation will be long and drawn out, SSO can be rolled out only to a select group of users. For example, the hospital is able to roll out the solution to the most critical applications and the people who have to log in to a variety of systems and applications on a daily basis in different locations, such as clinicians who make rounds. This allows the hospital to easily control the project in terms of price and complexity.

While an SSO solution can provide the benefit of saving time for healthcare employees, it also offers several other benefits. For example, the solution helps healthcare providers meet the many audit demands they must comply with, including HIPAA; SSO provides a detailed log of each user who has accessed a system and what they did while on the network. Additionally, a newer requirement of HIPAA is that clinicians can no longer use shared accounts on their workstations. SSO can assist with easing the transition from shared accounts by allowing clinicians to still only need a single set of credentials, instead of a set of credentials for each system or application they need to access.

Additionally, many vendors offer features such as "follow me" that allow clinicians to work more efficiently, meaning users who have opened applications on Citrix and/or Terminal Server can continue the work they began on one machine even if they have moved to a different computer altogether.

Overall, implementing an SSO solution can bring many benefits to a healthcare organization. It can help clinicians provide better care to their patients, but can also help IT departments deal with fewer password issues and easily meet organizational audit demands. Also, once up and running, the solution becomes a long-lasting efficient solution that eases the care process and ensures security of the network.

Dean Wiech is managing director at Tools4ever. Tools4ever supplies a variety of software products and integrated consultancy services involving identity management, such as user provisioning, role-based access control, password management, single sign one and access management, serving more than 5 million user accounts worldwide.

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