Identity Management Takes Hold - InformationWeek

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2/18/2004
03:54 PM
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Identity Management Takes Hold

Hoping to prescribe lower I.T. infrastructure costs, comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and increase the usefulness of business technology to medical workers, health-care companies are turning to identity-management applications and authentication technologies such as proximity cards, biometrics, and USB tokens to authenticate medical workers and physicians to networks and applications.

Identity-management applications help with everything from managing and resetting passwords to so-called single-sign-on applications that let users, with a single user name and password, access multiple applications. Roberta Witty, a research director at Gartner, says heavily regulated industries such as financial services and health care are interested in simplifying user access to systems. "They're looking for forms of authentication other than passwords because in these verticals, users have to remember a zillion different passwords," she says.

Too often, when users are asked to remember dozens of passwords, they can't, and that means expensive help-desk calls and lost time and productivity. And time isn't a luxury that health-care providers can squander. Just ask Rich Kubica, managing director of IS infrastructure at Hartford Hospital, which sought an efficient way to give its physicians access to medical information, including remote access to clinical applications. Kubica says the hospital first tested a VPN to get the job done, but that approach proved too cumbersome. "It wasn't that the VPN didn't work; it worked well," Kubica says. "The problem was installing the software on users' remote PCs, including PCs at their homes. If something went wrong, it was always our fault," he says. Also, the VPN it deployed didn't support single-sign-on capability, so workers were forced to remember too many passwords.

When the hospital decided to discontinue the VPN, Kubica and his team opted for a Web-portal approach to solve the application-access problem. Hartford wanted to create a single-sign-on system and selected Novell exteNd and Novell Nsure to build the portal and provide secure single-sign-on and remote access. The hospital integrated many of its clinical apps for centralized access to the portal. User identities are now managed in a centralized Novell eDirectory, so personnel can access about 30 applications, ranging from E-mail to clinical systems, using a single password and user name.

Hartford has roughly 70 doctors on the system, and it hopes to add several hundred more. "It's cut down on support, and all users need to log in is [Internet] Explorer," Kubica says. The system is paying for itself already. One new Web-services-based patient application has simplified Hartford's claim processing and saved more than $80,000 so far.

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