Case Study - Midwest Eye Consultants

 

HIPAA Compliance and UTM for Midwest Eye Consultants

Background

Midwest Eye Consultants, PC (MWEC) operate 22 primary care offices, three surgical facilities, an optical lab, and a nursing home division throughout Indiana, offering optometry services, ophthalmological care, and eye surgeries. With such a widely distributed medical enterprise, connectivity and security are major concerns.

To address these concerns in a cost-effective and compliant manner, MWEC partnered with Intrasect Technologies, a long-established, diverse IT consultant and managed services provider from Northeast Indiana. Intrasect manages and monitors MWEC's twenty servers along with their backups, and acts as a second line of support for the internal IT staff as well as taking on a strategic consulting role.

The Challenge

MWEC's practice sizes are diverse, ranging from single-practitioner offices to fully staffed surgical centers. A central practice management system (CompuLink EyeCare Advantage) runs out of the corporate data center, over Citrix sessions, to handle scheduling, accounting and related business functions. Due to the fact that these records include confidential patient data, the company is subject to HIPAA regulations for data security and integrity.

There are more than 300 individual PCs to protect, at widespread locations, all requiring connectivity to the data center and posing a possible security concern. Web-surfing employees were a constant worry. "There had been a problem with pop ups and people clicking on things," explains Stephen Brown, IT Manager. "We had a couple occurrences a month where people thought they were doing us a favor by installing an antivirus program, not realizing the program was malware. That created lots of headaches on the machine." This created a situation in which a compromised PC became an attack vector that could put patient data at risk.

The WatchGuard® Solution

The WatchGuard WebBlocker service proved an ideal solution for handling the many small offices, as well as the users at corporate headquarters. According to Thomas Polk, Divisional Manager for Intrasect, "The biggest issue is that most of their remote sites are just a couple of workstations. Rather than manage web use through applications on each individual machine, the best approach was through a firewall VPN appliance on the edge."

A WatchGuard Firebox® X Peak™ 6500e was already in place protecting headquarters and the data center. Older WatchGuard units were handling the back-office VPNs at each practice. Thanks to WatchGuard's liberal trade-up policy, replacing the existing units with new ones made more economic sense than enabling web blocking on the older units. Intrasect and MWEC installed new WatchGuard Firebox X Edge 20e or 55e devices at each of the satellite offices, with full UTM security subscription bundles, including WebBlocker.

Benefits

Immediately, the number of compromised machines dropped significantly. "Every location that had WebBlocker rolled out had the number of infections reduced significantly - very near zero," says Brown.

Hours Saved on Scrubbing Infections

Brown and MWEC cured more than the security headaches. He says, "I had to spend a few hours cleaning up the machine if the infection wasn't bad, or else reinstall the system from scratch. Very rarely could I fix those problems remotely. So, I also saved anywhere from a half-hour to a 2-1/2 hour trip to get on site to correct the issue." WebBlocker eliminated that time-consuming task, as well as the lost productivity from a workstation that was down.

The Most Cost-Effective Web Blocking Solution

For Polk, the WatchGuard solution was far and away the most cost-effective solution available. "The only other choice would have been to backhaul all the Web traffic through the data center and then back out to the Internet," he says. "The problem is, that would have killed the bandwidth. There are already four T1s coming into the data center to handle the 200 terminal services sessions. If I were to put browsing on top of that, we would be moving to eight T1s. That's really ineffective compared to upgrading to boxes with UTM bundles, managed from a central location."

Developing the Web-blocking policies was, and continues to be, a balancing act says Polk. "You have to walk the line between screwing the system down to five allowed sites, which we can do, or to say, 'We're going to trust you to use your best judgment and be good employees.' We're doing basic, traditional content filtering in terms of sexual content... and some specifics, such as social networking sites. We don't necessarily see a benefit to allowing them, at least at this point." Polk is currently putting together a system for analyzing and reporting on the Web usage data pulled from the WatchGuard appliances, to further refine the policies.

Opening Business Opportunities in Small Communities

"This is rural Indiana, and there are lots of cornfields between here and there. We have people here still driving horse and buggy. This is flyover country," declares Polk. That means that connecting sites and enforcing distributed security in a cost-effective manner is essential.

In fact, one element of MWEC's business is purchasing independent, established small-town practices, allowing longtime practitioners to continue serving their patients while taking over the administrative burdens. Having the WatchGuard devices allows Midwest Eye to take advantage of these opportunities. Brown says, "Buying a leased line between Wabash and Chesterton would be a ridiculous expense. It wouldn't be economically reasonable to have an office there. The cost-effective way is to purchase business class Internet at the location, and use the WatchGuard product to provide point-to-point encrypted secure channels for us to operate over."

 

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Every location that had WebBlocker rolled out had the number of infections reduced significantly - very near
zero.

Stephen Brown, IT Manager
Midwest Eye Consultants, P.C. (MWEC)

 

 

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