Healthcare systems around the world have embraced the vision of highly connected, digitally enhanced, patient-driven care. But today those systems are handling more data than ever before, which is pushing IT operations to their limit.
Overcoming the key challenges — reliability, quality of service (QoS), security and scalability — requires evolving to a real-time healthcare model. By using the latest digital and cloud technologies, clinicians and patients can connect, communicate and collaborate more effectively.
A robust and intelligent private network infrastructure is crucial for transitioning to the new model. By seamlessly interconnecting hundreds of sites, devices and data sources, it enables healthcare systems to streamline their workflows — and gain anywhere, anytime access to data and knowledge that are crucial for improving patient care.
What’s Going to Make Real-time Healthcare Work?
Real-time healthcare requires:
Real-time information and communications for more collaborative, proactive patient care
Aware and adaptive infrastructure that can automatically sense, direct and respond to changing patient and physician needs
Network and cloud technologies that accelerate innovation and streamline workflows
Together these elements provide the IT infrastructure for a real-time healthcare system (RTHS) that offers the agility and flexibility to integrate disparate medical networks, services and applications into a common platform. Clinicians and healthcare administrators gain greater visibility into their operations and resources, so they can make more timely and better-informed decisions that improve quality of care and patient outcomes.
Moving to the RTHS model is essential for large, complex healthcare systems with clinical and business processes that span across hospitals, remote clinics, pharmacies, corporate offices, data center facilities and more. However, evolving successfully requires a more robust and intelligent network, communications and management infrastructure — one that can seamlessly interconnect all sites, devices and data sources.
Today’s Healthcare System Challenges
Healthcare systems need to overcome the challenges that are pushing their current IT operations to their limits:
Reliability: EHRs and critical medical data must be accessible exactly where and when they’re needed, yet many systems are currently struggling to make their data accessible in ways that match the real-time contexts of today’s healthcare.
Quality of Service: Different types of medical applications, services and data must be prioritized according to importance. This drives a need to analyze and recognize specific medical applications, services and data and to differentiate between and prioritize what is important and what is not, at any given moment.
Security: The need for security and encryption to protect the confidentiality of patient data and EHRs is widely understood. However, today’s accelerated adoption of cloud technologies and the use of public cloud facilities are raising some serious questions about network and data security.
Scalability: More processes are becoming digital as more medical devices and equipment are generating increasing amounts of sensitive medical data — such as electronic health records (EHRs), imaging data, lab results and more. Devices connecting to the internet of medical things (IoMT) are also generating larger volumes of data than ever before.
RTHS and the cloud offer greater cost efficiencies and easier access to information and enhanced productivity and collaboration. But healthcare enterprises need to be sure their RTHS and cloud solution can meet strict regulatory and compliance requirements for patient data privacy and confidentiality.
How can they prevent EHRs and other sensitive information from being seen by the wrong person — or worse, hacked or stolen by malicious entities? New devices connecting to the healthcare network, such as internet-connected monitoring devices and medical equipment that send information directly to the healthcare system, also need to be fully secured.
Therefore, organizations need to be more vigilant about which devices are connecting to the network and why. They must also be able to proactively detect and act against suspicious traffic patterns and user activity. All these challenges can be overcome through an adaptable IT infrastructure that is secure, controlled, can scale quickly and easily respond to changing needs and requirements.
Re-architecting the Network for RTHS and the Cloud
So, what type of networking approach is best suited to overcome these challenges and lay the IT groundwork for an RTHS?
Traditional networks and services lack the scalability and bandwidth to support modern healthcare and cloud applications. They are slow to provision and respond to moves and changes. As a result, many healthcare organizations are opting for private networks that can scale to support future data needs, provide the reliability and quality of service to support current and future medical applications as well as provide the security and control to support private/hybrid clouds. In the context of an RTHS, this involves building a private wide-area network (WAN) to connect main hospitals, clinics, healthcare sites and data centers — essentially creating a secure private cloud.
The private WAN can be augmented by secure connectivity to virtual private and hybrid clouds. This approach enables healthcare organizations to run critical applications in house to ensure control, security and reliability. It also enables them to outsource non-critical IT applications to a public cloud in order to increase agility and productivity with much lower costs. A private/hybrid cloud also provides additional scalability and capacity when needed, improves workload distribution and enhances IT responsiveness.
Figure 1. Private network supporting a real-time healthcare system (RTHS)
Healthcare enterprises can integrate existing network services that connect regional hospitals and healthcare sites with the private WAN. They can also use more efficient and cost-effective software-defined WAN solutions to connect smaller hospitals and community sites, as well as secure internet and mobile applications to enable secure access to healthcare portals, remote monitoring and telemedicine for patients and healthcare workers in the community.
For many healthcare enterprises, building a private WAN that supports a private/hybrid cloud can be a strategic investment that supports their information and communications technology (ICT) strategy. A private WAN implemented with a combination of existing and new networking technologies can help healthcare organizations implement more agile, flexible and cost-efficient networking solutions while maintaining control and security in the era of RTHS and the cloud.
Networks are Just the Beginning
Network infrastructure serves as the key building block on which organizations can create a private/hybrid cloud to support their RTHS model. It’s what allows them to connect their facilities, devices, staff and patients in a scalable, reliable and secure way.
With a state-of-the-art network providing this foundation, healthcare organizations can use a wide range of applications — such as cloud-based communications, IoMT management platforms and patient care platforms — to enhance and extend collaboration and workflows across the entire healthcare system.
Private network solutions can transform the classic healthcare delivery model into a real-time healthcare system that leverages the latest digital and cloud technologies. Through these crucial networking advances, healthcare enterprises can deliver better patient management and operational efficiency across hospitals, clinics, data centers and other connected healthcare sites.
By implementing state of the art networking and virtualization technologies, communications and collaboration solutions, as well as platforms for managing smart devices and patient care, healthcare organizations can evolve their IT infrastructure to support the delivery of high-quality, real-time care. Organizations also gain important operating benefits, including the agility and on-demand scalability needed to address new demands — and to make the best use of the massive data now coming into the healthcare system.
Gary Holland is the Director of Verticals Marketing, IP/Optical Networks, at Nokia where he is responsible for marketing Nokia’s IP and Optical Networks (ION) portfolio to enterprise, industries, government, and public sector verticals, both directly and through Global Alliance partners.