While healthcare organizations seek the benefits digital technologies bring, implementation often requires modernizing the IT network to support more data traffic and extremely reliable transmission of high-bandwidth applications. The modernization process can be especially challenging for organizations that are merging and must converge disparate, legacy platforms.
Fortunately, packet networking technologies—both Ethernet- and IP-based—can facilitate these and the security, performance and supportability needs of healthcare CIO’s. This article summarizes three areas of healthcare requiring modernization and describes how organizations can deploy packet networking for clinical and non-clinical IT applications.
Three Drivers for Packet Networking in Healthcare: Quality, Access, and Costs
1—Improving quality of care and patient outcomes: Providers are using networked medical technologies to increase the accuracy of diagnoses and improve clinical and non-clinical care. Some of the most compelling applications include genome sequencing, cognitive computing, 3D medical imaging, augmented-reality, robotic surgeries, and in-home telehealth solutions. Depending on the application, the approaches can facilitate precision medicine, provide life-saving treatments regardless of a patient’s location, or actively monitor home-based elderly and chronic disease patients. Impact on IT: Organizations using these technologies will need to ensure that the network provides the required performance characteristics, such as seamless connectivity, high bandwidth, low latency or minimal jitter. The network might also need to prioritize traffic and scale bandwidth in real time to accommodate varying volumes and types of traffic.
2—Improving access to providers to bolster population health and wellness: To expand access, hospitals are establishing outpatient clinics and urgent care centers in communities close to where patients work and live; providers are using telemedicine to extend care to rural clinics, offer virtual ICUs or virtual doctor visits. Telehealth applications, accessible via mobile devices, help patients manage health and wellness and interact more conveniently with providers. Impact on IT: Expanding access increases digital networking needs. An IT system, for example, might need to support telemedicine networking requirements, share EHRs between more facilities and providers, and accommodate the traffic growth created by telehealth applications.
3—Reducing costs by improving business efficiencies: Many hospital systems are merging to create business advantages and efficiencies. Consolidation often requires converging disparate networks, extending connectivity to more satellite locations and making EHRs available to more participants. Merging organizations often opt to evolve beyond their segregated picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and adopt enterprise imaging architectures that are accessed via private or public clouds. Impact on IT: A converged network must meet the bandwidth-intensive demands for the combined entities while minimizing network management and maintenance requirements. To facilitate timely sharing of massive medical imaging data sets among more constituents, organizations will need high-capacity, high-speed networks that always run at peak performance.
Packet Networking Applications, Conveniences and Performance Benefits
Packet networking is very practical for healthcare because it is protocol agnostic and can carry packets based on Ethernet, IP or other protocols over a common infrastructure. Individual healthcare systems or organizations undergoing consolidation can seamlessly integrate clinical and administrative services on a single packet network. The packet network can support
- Dedicated, secure, high-capacity, high-performance services between primary and regional headquarters, hospitals, radiology centers, urgent care facilities, labs, and doctor clinics
- Carrier-class performance, including self-healing capability to reroute traffic in case of a failure to ensure maximum uptime for critical systems
- Telesurgery and telehealth applications
- Rapid transmission of next-generation EHRs, massive genome files, or medical images
- Point-to-point connections between data centers
- Connections to non-affiliated clinics over Ethernet or the Internet
- VoIP, videoconferencing and data communications for the business
A packet network can allocate bandwidth for specific classes of service and prioritize traffic for latency-sensitive applications. Bandwidth (News - Alert) can be scaled as required and in real time, on demand, from 100 Mbps to 100 Gbps and higher.
Network-Based Security that Minimizes Risks
The healthcare industry must minimize the risks of cyberattacks and ransomware. Organizations can use packet networking equipment to implement encryption at the data link or optical layers to protect information in-flight, end-to-end, between headquarters, data centers, hospitals, provider clinics and other facilities. The approach is less costly than higher-level encryption and ensures compliance with HIPAA requirements as well as NIST standards.
How to Begin Planning your Migration to Packet Networking
Every organization will have its own clinical, business and operational contexts for IT modernization. To establish your packet networking needs and develop a deployment strategy, consider the following
- The likelihood your organization will undergo a merger and need to converge networks
- Your ability to predict and manage bandwidth and networking costs with your current technology
- If you have enough bandwidth to support your PACS or other enterprise imaging system in addition to your standard administrative applications
- If your network capacity can support increasing use of your EHR application
- Your network’s need for extremely low latency to support telemedicine and robotic surgeries
- How many patients might use remote device monitoring and the demands these features will place on the network
- How users connect to your data centers
- Your organization’s ability to provide network-layer security to protect data in-transit and ensure compliance with HIPAA and other regulations
- Your ability to scale your network bandwidth and performance for specific facilities or applications
Telemedicine and telehealth innovations, electronic health records (EHRs) and new enterprise imaging architectures, that expedite care and streamline information sharing to improve patient outcomes. These types of applications also yield process efficiencies that lower business expenses, which is good for patients and stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem. Applying Packet networking solutions to connect healthcare organizations with the people and information can assist in supporting strategic efforts that improve quality of care and access to care while reducing costs.
Edited by Maurice Nagle