On Healthcare Intranets and Extranets

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A Primer for Physicians and Medical Executives

Dr. Mata

By Richard J. Mata; MD, MS, CMP™ [Hon]

According to the “Dictionary of Heath Information and Technology”,

“An intranet is a private network that uses Internet Protocols, network connectivity, and possibly the public telecommunication system to securely share part of an organization’s information or operations with its employees”.

Sometimes the term refers only to the most visible service, the internal website.  The same concepts and technologies of the Internet, such as clients and servers running on the Internet protocol suite, are used to build an intranet.

Uses in Healthcare

An intranet is commonly used to provide communication and application services.  The advantages of using an intranet in the healthcare setting include the following:

  • Medical Workforce productivity: Intranets can help employees quickly find and view information and applications relevant to their roles and responsibilities.  Via a simple-to-use web browser interface, users can access data held in any database the organization wants to make available, anytime and  subject to security provisions — from anywhere, increasing employees’ ability to perform their jobs faster, more accurately, and with confidence that they have the right information.
  • Time: With intranets, healthcare organizations can make more information available to employees on a “pull” basis (i.e., employees can link to relevant information at a time that suits them) rather than being deluged indiscriminately by e-mails.
  • Communication: Intranets can serve as powerful tools for communication within a healthcare organization; vertically and horizontally.

Vulnerability and Security Protection

Intranets, like other IT systems, need to be protected by security systems. Any intranet is vulnerable to attack by people intent on destruction or on stealing corporate data. The open nature of the Internet and TCP/IP protocols expose a corporation to attack.  Intranets require a variety of security measures, including hardware and software combinations that provide control of traffic; encryption and passwords to validate users; and software tools to prevent and cure viruses, block objectionable sites, and monitor traffic.

Multiple Lines of Defense

The first line of defense is a firewall and these are commonly set up using proxy servers, which allow system administrators to track all traffic coming in and out of an intranet. Another layer of sophistication is added by using a bastion server firewall, configured to withstand and prevent unauthorized access or services. It is typically segmented from the rest of the intranet in its own subnet or perimeter network. In this way, if the server is broken into, the rest of the intranet won’t be compromised.

Authentication Systems

Authentication systems are an important part of any intranet security scheme. They are used to ensure that anyone trying to log into the intranet or any of its resources is the person they claim to be. Authentication systems typically use user names, passwords, fingerprints and iris scans, and various encryption systems.

Protection and Monitoring

Server-based software is used to protect an intranet and its data. Virus-checking software can check every file coming into the intranet to make sure that it is virus-free, and site-blocking software can bar people on the intranet from getting objectionable material. Monitoring software tracks where people have gone and what services they have used, such as HTTP for Web access.

Filtering Systems and Routers

One way of ensuring that the wrong people or erroneous data can’t get into the intranet is to use a filtering router. This is a special kind of router that examines the IP address and header information in every packet coming into the network, and allows in only those packets that have addresses or other data, like e-mail, that the system administrator has decided should be allowed into the intranet. Increasingly, intranets are being used to deliver tools and applications, e.g., collaboration (to facilitate working in groups and for teleconferences) or sophisticated corporate directories, sales and customer relationship management (CRM) tools, project management, etc, to advance productivity. Intranets are also being used as Health 2.0 culture change platforms


Intranet traffic, like public-facing website traffic, is better understood by using web metrics software to track overall activity, as well as through surveys of users. Intranet User experience, editorial, and technology teams work together to produce in-house sites. Most commonly, intranets are owned by the communications, HR or IT areas of large healthcare organizations, or some combination of the three.


When part of an intranet is made accessible to customers, partners, suppliers, patients, or others outside the healthcare organization – that part becomes part of an extranet.


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One Response

  1. Dr. Mata,

    Nice post. All ME-P readers should also note that healthcare providers and businesses that plan to use the nationwide health information network [NHIN] need to strengthen their security and privacy measures to ensure healthcare transformation succeeds, according to Julie Boughn, chief information officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

    And, this includes intra-nets and extra-nets.



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