The end of Windows 7 is fast-approaching, with Microsoft confirming that it will cease to provide security updates on the operating system (as well as Windows Server 2008/R2) beginning January 14, 2020. While companies will still technically be able to persist with Windows 7 by paying a significant fee each month, IT experts have warned that businesses in the healthcare sector will need to adapt in order to remain HIPAA compliant.

It has now been over a decade since Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system was initially launched in July 2009. Having been replaced by Windows 8 in 2012, which was subsequently succeeded by Windows 8.1 (2013) and Windows 10 (2015), there has been a period of over eight years since the latest Windows 7 service pack release.

Despite its popularity in many business sectors, particularly due to the failings of Windows 8, Windows 7 has inevitably become an outdated product. In fact, the transition away from Windows 7 by many businesses started back in 2015 when Microsoft put an end to its mainstream support. As of January 2020, though, it will be considered obsolete for companies working in certain industries–the healthcare sector included.

From that date, Microsoft will no longer offer software updates or technical support. Crucially, it will not include any further security updates either, meaning HIPAA compliance will not be achievable by healthcare practices who continue using Windows 7.

Essentially, Microsoft ends support for certain software to encourage users to adapt to their latest operating systems and associated computing technologies, which means pushing Windows 7 into obsolescence. Now is the time to take their advice and make the switch, especially if you’re a healthcare provider.

While Windows 7 operating systems will continue to work technically, IT experts warn that the lack of security updates is enough to make it useless to healthcare providers in the coming year. The end of security updates in Windows 7 also marks an end to its capacity to keep healthcare institutions compliant according to HIPAA security regulations.

Besides that the lack of security updates can have a serious impact on the services healthcare facilities provide to clients, organizations that break the regulations outlined by HIPAA can also face fines of up to $1.5 million. Frankly, it’s a risk healthcare providers will be unable to ignore.

Additionally, due to the fact that new viruses and malware enter the digital landscape every day, persisting with an operating system that stops updating its security features after January 2020 poses an even greater threat of a data breach. And data breaches not only require you pay fees to HIPAA, as mentioned, but they also lead to a significant loss of client trust and a bad reputation.

The harsh reality is that even a single system running the outdated Windows 7 operating system will put healthcare information at serious risk. Now that healthcare providers will be unable to configure their Windows 7 systems to meet those regulations, organizations are essentially legally obligated to abandon their Windows 7 systems.

The need for healthcare providers to migrate away from Windows 7 is clear, but what now? IT Managed Service Providers and specialists agree with Microsoft’s ubiquitous suggestion to all healthcare providers: upgrade to Windows 10.

IT specialists have said that given its known compatibility issues and poor reputation, it’s best just to bypass Windows 8, opting for a Windows 10 upgrade instead. Aside from offering better security and performance, it is widely believed that Windows 8 will be condemned to the same outcome as its predecessor within the near future too.

IT firms suggest that migrating to Windows 10 is not only necessary for HIPAA compliance, but highly beneficial for most businesses, especially those within the healthcare industry who need to maintain maximum security and efficiency.

Microsoft offers a host of information about how businesses can achieve HIPAA compliance with Windows 10, including that the advanced security features allow you to configure the proper applications and hardware systems to meet HIPAA requirements.

With the year coming to a close, it’s becoming more and more urgent for healthcare providers to start making the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 10 now. However, migrating several systems from one operating system to another can be a complicated task, especially for those who expect to maintain end-user productivity during the shift.

The shift to Windows 10 is best done gradually and strategically, which is why using a healthcare-specialized MSP who understands your facility’s needs is advised. It is imperative that you configure the Windows 10 rollout in a way that maintains HIPAA compliance at all times, which MSPs are trained to do. MSPs can help you make a quick yet smooth transition before the end of the year while also enabling you to maintain productivity and train you and your staff to become familiar with the new operating system.

One of the first things that an MSP can do is run a full audit of your current computers and infrastructure to ensure that they are compatible for Windows 10. When systems aren’t compatible, MSPs can discuss the various ways to make older programs compatible with Windows 10.

Most importantly, MSPs will help devise and implement a structured migration plan that includes background operations to ensure that transition is completed in various structured phases. This ensures the ability to test devices on the new operating system, achieve greater productivity, and reduce downtime during the transition.

HIPAA compliance is obviously the primary incentive for healthcare organizations to make the switch to Windows 10, but it certainly isn’t the only reason why Microsoft’s latest operating system is beneficial to your healthcare operations.

For starters, the universal compatibility across laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones means that Windows 10 can utilize all modern software. Moreover, the transition between devices in which users can switch seamlessly between devices to access data allows for greater productivity while also supporting enhanced collaboration.

Perhaps most importantly, Windows 10 looks as if it will become the gold standard for Microsoft software in the near future and is unlikely to suffer the same fate as Windows 7 for at least several years. This ensures greater security for your healthcare facility that you won’t have to make another operating system transition for a good while.

With time ticking away at a rapid rate, now is the time to make the transition. By using an MSP who specializes in healthcare IT services, you can make the transition smoother and more efficient, allowing your business to keep doing what it does best–helping patients–no matter how your software changes.

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