Domain Controlled Networks and Management Servers

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Trent Peters from Umbrella Medical Systems added an interesting comment on my previous post about Domain Controlled Networks and HIPAA that I thought really added to my original post. Plus, Trent goes into a nice list of other benefits of having a “Management” server in an office. It gets a little technical for some of my readers I’m sure, but is valuable if you’re office is embarking on this adventure.

Here’s Trent’s comment:

This is an interesting question and can be argued either way, but again it comes down to what’s “reasonable and appropriate”. A little background, my company is a IT Consultant group that works specifically in the healthcare arena offering services to medium-sized and small healthcare organizations, we have plenty of EMR implementation experience. Over 95% of our clients are in a domain environment and we always push for an Active Directory environment if one is not present. However, in the small offices (1 – 2 providers) this can be difficult because of the initial cost and the fact it’s “server” based. Many small offices will choose a “hosted” emr solution for the low up front cost and adding on the extra 5 -7K is not a valid option as the cost outweighs the benefits (from their perspective). The other 5% simply do not have the same security and manageability as the domain environments.

Any networks Security solution is only as strong as the weakest link. While not having a domain controller doesn’t necessarily equate to not being HIPAA compliant, it sure helps secure the environment to IT best practices. We call the Domain / Active Directory server the “Management” server because it provides more functions than just AD. For instance, WSUS patch management to make sure all computers have the latest security patches and don’t have the updates that may conflict with the EMR (some EMR software are not compatible with IE8 or SQL 2005 SP3, etc), centralized backup and client folder redirection for non-EMR critical data, centralized monitoring platform for servers (hardware + software), workstations, UPS, networks, VPN, etc, centralized AntiVirus protection is also important to notify the support team of malicious software and vulnerabilities. Group Policies is a big part of the overall security that can manage (if properly configured) all aspects of the network including password policies, computer and user permission rights, power setting, audit controls, etc. There are many benefits to a DC / Management and is the choice to achieve IT best practices (I believe MS recommend 3+ computers to be on a domain environment, although this is aggressive).

It’s nice to be able to bundle server roles (such as SQL or FAX) in order to justify the management server, but generally it comes down to cost. We hold our HIT practices to the highest standard, so our rule is that if the organization has +5 computers, you must have a Domain Controller / Management Server in order to qualify for our full support program. We can’t justify the extra effort required to properly manage the environment without it. In those rare cases where a small organization choses to not invest in a Domain Controller when we feel it’s required, then unfortunately we wish them the best of luck and turn down their business.