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GUEST BLOG: How to Keep Your Old Computers HIPAA Compliant and Out of Landfills

August 19, 2014
by James Deck, CEO of MTS Healthcare
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James Deck, CEO of MTS Healthcare

When you walk the halls of your facility these days, you probably see a computer everywhere you turn. Some of these computers might be more than five years old whereas others might have been purchased as part of a computer replacement program. What you may not know is these computers are more commonly connecting to electronic health records (EHRs) that are remotely hosted. They don’t need nearly as much of the computer processing power they once used to. So why are we spending so much money on new computers and throwing perfectly good computers in a landfill?

In this age of technology, the number of discarded electronics or “e-waste” we generate is growing at an alarming rate -- and hospitals and medical offices are no exception. A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report predicted that e-waste would weigh the equivalent of eight of the Great Pyramids of Egypt by 2017. To make matters worse, improperly disposing of old computers could lead to a data breach, which according to Ponemon Institute’s 2014 Cost of Data Breach Analysis could cost an average of $3.5 million in US dollars per organization.

The Healthcare industry should extend the life of their computers while improving security and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). While it may seem that a five-year-old computer can’t keep up with today’s technology, it simply is not true. It’s not the computer that needs to be replaced; it is the operating system. The solution is to install Linux on old computers and use open source software to connect to the latest applications. Computers that run Linux, even if they are 10 years old, are faster and if properly configured, will ensure HIPAA compliance for years to come.

Identity Medical Group in Ventura, California took advantage of Linux this summer by adopting a cloud desktop platform that consists of highly customized Linux desktops that connect to Microsoft Remote Desktops. In about 10 minutes, they are able to take an old computer and turn it into a Linux desktop that runs NextGen Ambulatory EHR. The team now refers to their Linux computers as “refurbs” which come from the idea of refurbishing old computers instead of disposing of them in landfills. In fact, Identity Medical Group has told us that they expect to save $50,000 this year alone by using the cloud desktop solution instead of buying new computers.

Given that healthcare organizations and physicians are being asked to spend more of their time and money each year on healthcare technology just to remain competitive, health IT professionals need to look for innovative ways to help offset the cost of technology. Technology adoption has to be a two-way street and using Linux to extend the life of old computers, keeping them out of landfills and saving our environment, is just the beginning. I’m certain there is more we can do to help. And while most geeks like myself have said for years that Linux is the answer to just about any technology problem or solution, I don’t suppose we ever said it could save the environment.  Now, we can add that to the list of the wonderful things Linux can do.

James Deck is CEO of MTS Healthcare. Founded in 2006, MTS Healthcare, a leading cloud computing company that works exclusively with healthcare organizations across the United States to reduce the cost and complexity of IT. For more information about MTS Healthcare, please visit