Security and equity: Scaling remote work in healthcare with Google
SVP, Associate Chief Information and Chief Technology Officer at Hackensack Meridian Health
Hackensack Meridian Health transformed their business with Google Workspace and Chrome OS to secure anywhere, anytime collaboration.
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Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) executive Mark Eimer explains how an ambitiously-timed rollout of a comprehensive suite of Google products helped the entire organization—from doctors to IT staff—achieve better security, cultivate a more equitable work environment, and ultimately, improve patient outcomes.
How does a recently merged, 17-hospital healthcare system fast-track a platform migration and hardware rollout securely and in a way that improves work for everyone, regardless of location or role? These are the questions that kept me up at night in early 2020, when the pandemic demanded a “big bang”—something our legacy laptops and operating systems couldn't handle.
We began our work with Google in 2020 with the adoption of Chrome as our default browser. As we migrated platforms, keeping patient data safe was of the utmost importance to us, along with providing every staff member with the tools they needed to work virtually. Our staff often experienced issues accessing our web-based applications using Internet Explorer or Edge Browser, a problem that went away when we switched to Chrome. Chrome’s versatile compatibility also made it easier for my team to migrate all of our web-based operations, and Chrome’s security and manageability were key components to making this switch a huge win for the organization.
The success of this migration led us to extend our Google partnership to patient care applications—where Google’s expertise in AI and ML helps scale the use of diagnostics tools and improve other aspects of the patient journey.
Patient care is at the center of HMH’s mission
Achieving security at every step
Like so many other healthcare organizations, we’ve been concerned about ransomware attacks. This is part of why we moved to Google Workspace and distributed over 3,000 Chrome OS devices in kiosk mode in March of 2020, when many of us went remote due to the pandemic. We were very concerned about team members accessing corporate applications through home devices that were running EOL operating systems (WIN7), as well as a general lack of antivirus and encryption measures.
We were protected by the fact that Google’s software and hardware both had built-in security features that we needed to stave off sophisticated attackers. For example, Chrome OS automatically updates to the latest security update and encrypts data living outside the cloud on the hardware. These features protected us from security-related disruptions, letting us securely move a huge library of file shares and emails across thousands of accounts to Google Chrome OS in just four months.
A year later, in March 2021, we migrated the enterprise over to Google Workspace and saw an immediate reduction in spam by 30% from the inherent built-in AI/ML. This meant staff were less likely to receive (and click through) phishing attempts. My team could connect, create, and collaborate easily and securely—even as more of us were working from home and needed to access sensitive data remotely.
Leveling the playing field
As an organization, we were surprised by how many team members didn't have personal computers at home. We quickly decided that if we needed team members to work from home, the health network would have to supply hardware. Chromebooks’ lower price tag compared to PCs—on top of their built-in security controls—allowed us to purchase, deploy, and support that initial distribution of 3,000 Chromebooks to team members in less than three weeks, providing devices to every eligible remote employee instead of just a select few. This was vital to reaching our equitable technology goal as part of our diversity and inclusion initiative: everybody has the same tools to do good work.
When all employees have what they need to do their jobs well, we get better patient outcomes. Before we began this cloud adoption journey, patient and staff experiences were different within the hospitals and outside of them.
Now it’s the same wherever our staff is, and we’ve seen efficiency and accessibility benefits extend to the patient side. For example, we built a web-based contact center that supports 80 locations that use Workspace and Chrome OS devices. Since customer service, admin, and providers are all on the same system, it has become a one-stop shop for patients.
Furthermore, through the Grow with Google program, we were able to provide another benefit to employees that drove our equity goals. Google trained 50 non-IT staff members—from environmental services, food and nutrition, and other non-tech areas who were interested in making a career change to IT—on the Google products we were using. They may not have thought about switching to a career in IT before the Grow with Google program came to our organization, but through this partnership, they now have that opportunity.
A strategic, long-term partner
With any large-scale rollout, the work doesn’t end once laptops are in employee hands. Google has shown their commitment to long-term collaboration as they continuously optimize their products for the unique needs of healthcare providers and go the extra mile in tailoring tools to our staff’s workflows.
For example, on the Chrome OS side, the Google team has helped our registration desks and document centers with device integration for hardware like credit card readers and e-signature pads. They’ve also helped us meet security and privacy requirements mandated by state and federal governments around HIPAA, Medicaid, and Medicare reimbursements. Over this next year, we’ll look at a feature roadmap with Google Cloud to deliver further enhancements, iterating on the product itself to meet our needs for the present and the future.
Combining technology and expertise
Delivering the future of healthcare
The benefits we’ve seen around security and usability—and the ability to provide all staff with equal access to Google’s technology—are why we’re expanding our partnership with Google to both the administrative and clinical sides of HMH. In addition to further Google rollouts with corporate, next year we’re distributing Chromebooks to all 350 of our ambulatory clinics.
We’re also working with the Google professional services team to create a custom AI model that analyzes 3D mammogram images. This AI model will enable two providers to read mammograms—which adheres to international best practices but is currently rare in the US—without requiring additional time. Conducting double readings of mammograms will yield better health outcomes for our patients, such as a lower patient recall rate and an increased accuracy in detecting breast cancer.
We’re currently building the model using a variety of Google Cloud products, including Cloud Healthcare API. Once complete, this model is expected to be trained, deployed, and maintained in Google’s Vertex AI, allowing our providers to be more productive as they make clinical decisions with AI support. As the model is proven over time, we plan to make the predictive services accessible to other healthcare organizations.
With Google, we’re able to achieve a unified architecture for storing data as well as training and deploying AI models, which enable our staff to work more efficiently and securely from anywhere. While I may not be able to predict the future as accurately as AI can, I foresee our continued partnership with Google as a key part of HMH’s improved provider and patient outcomes.