How fEMR Delivers Cryptographically Secure and Verifiable Medical Data with Amazon QLDB
This post was co-written by Team fEMR’s President & Co-founder, Sarah Draugelis; CTO, Andy Mastie; Core Team Engineer & Fennel Labs Co-founder, Sean Batzel; Patrick Gryczka, AWS Solutions Architect; Mithil Prasad, AWS Senior Customer Solutions Manager.
Team fEMR is a non-profit organization that created a free, open-source Electronic Medical Records system for transient medical teams. Their system has helped bring aid and drive data driven communication in disaster relief scenarios and low resource settings around the world since 2014. In the past year, Team fEMR integrated Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) as their HIPAA compliant database solution to address their need for data integrity and verifiability.
When delivering aid to at risk communities and within challenging social and political environments, data veracity is a critical issue. Patients need to trust that their data is confidential and following an appropriate chain of ownership. Aid organizations meanwhile need to trust the demographic data provided to them to appropriately understand the scope of disasters and verify the usage of funds. Amazon QLDB is backed by an immutable append-only journal. This journal is verifiable, making it easier for Team fEMR to engage in external audits and deliver a trusted and verifiable EMR solution. The teams that use the new fEMR system are typically working or volunteering in post-disaster environments, refugee camps, or in other mobile clinics that offer pre-hospital care.
In this blog post, we explore how Team fEMR leveraged Amazon QLDB and other AWS Managed Services to enable their relief efforts.
Before the use of an electronic record keeping system, these teams often had to use paper records, which would easily be lost or destroyed. The new fEMR system allows the clinician to look up the patient’s history of illness, in order to provide the patient with a seamless continuity of care between clinic visits. Additionally, the collection of health data on a more macroscopic level allows researchers and data scientists to monitor for disease. This is- an especially important aspect of mobile medicine in a pandemic world.
The fEMR system has been deployed worldwide since 2014. In the original design, the system functioned solely in an on-premises environment. Clinicians were able to attach their own devices to the system, and have access to the EMR functionality and medical records. While the need for a standalone solution continues to exist for environments without data coverage and connectivity, demand for fEMR has increased rapidly and outpaced deployment capabilities as well as hardware availability. To solve for real-time deployment and scalability needs, Team fEMR migrated fEMR to the cloud and developed a HIPAA-compliant and secure architecture using Amazon QLDB.
As part of their cloud adoption strategy, Team fEMR decided to procure more managed services, to automate operational tasks and to optimize their resources.
The team built the preceding architecture using a combination of the following AWS managed services:
1. Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) – By using QLDB, Team fEMR were able to build an unfalsifiable, HIPAA compliant, and cryptographically verifiable record of medical histories, as well as for clinic pharmacy usage and stocking.
2. AWS Elastic Beanstalk – Team fEMR uses Elastic Beanstalk to deploy and run their Django front end and application logic. It allows their agile development team to focus on development and feature delivery, by offloading the operational work of deployment, patching, and scaling.
3. Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) – Team fEMR uses RDS for ad-hoc search, reporting, and analytics, whereas QLDB is not optimized for the specific requirement.
4. Amazon ElastiCache – Team fEMR uses Amazon ElastiCache to cache user session data to provide near real-time response times.
Data Security considerations
Data Security was a key consideration when building the fEMR EHR solution. End users of the solution are often working in environments with at-risk populations. That is, patients who may be fleeing persecution from their home country, or may be at risk due to discriminatory treatment. It is therefore imperative to secure their data. QLDB as a data storage mechanism provides a cryptographically secure history of all changes to data. This has the benefit of improved visibility and auditability and is invaluable in situations where medical data needs to be as tamper-evident as possible.
Using Auto Scaling to minimize operational effort
When Team fEMR engages with disaster relief, they deal with ambiguity around both when events may occur and at what scale their effects may be felt. By leveraging managed services like QLDB, RDS, and Elastic Beanstalk, Team fEMR was able to minimize the time their technical team spent on systems operations. Instead, they can focus optimizing and improving their technology architectures.
Use of Infrastructure as Code to enable fast global deployment
With Infrastructure as Code, Team fEMR was able to create repeatable deployments. They utilized AWS CloudFormation to deploy their Elasticache, RDS, QLDB, and Elastic Beanstalk environment. Elastic Beanstalk was used to further automate the deployment of infrastructure for their Django stack. Repeatability of deployment enables the team to have the flexibility they need to deploy in certain regions due to geographic and data sovereignty requirements.
Optimizing the architecture
The team found that simultaneous writing into two databases could cause inconsistencies if a write succeeds in one database and fails in the other. In addition, it puts the burden of identifying errors and rolling back updates on the application. Therefore, an improvement planned for this architecture is to stream successful transactions from Amazon QLDB to Amazon RDS using Amazon Kinesis Data Streams. This service provides them a way to replicate data from Amazon QLDB to Amazon RDS, and any other databases or dashboards. QLDB remains as as their System of Record.
As a result of migrating their system to the cloud, Team fEMR was able to deliver their EMR system with less operational overhead and instead focus on bringing their solution to the communities that need it. By using Amazon QLDB, Team fEMR was able to make their solution easier to audit and enabled more trust in their work with at-risk populations.