Utilizing the Best Digital Strategies in Healthcare

This is part 1 of a 2-part series.

Today’s healthcare organizations need to remain nimble when it comes to their data management. They also need to bolster their cybersecurity efforts given that medical providers are prime targets for hackers.

Attendees from the healthcare and tech sectors gathered in-person in San Francisco and online at VMware Explore 2022 to hear about the latest digital solutions for organizations of all sizes.

During our Healthcare Workshop, three technology leaders shared their experiences with essential cloud migrations, new security measures, and enhanced remote operations. Sentara Healthcare Principal Enterprise Architect Greg Russell, Children’s Health System of Texas IT Infrastructure Director Matt Castle, and Houston Methodist Chief Technology Officer Jim Francis sat down with VMware Senior Director of Healthcare Solutions Enrique Estrada to discuss their unique strategies.

Following an introduction from VMware Healthcare Solutions Vice President Michael Robinson, the event guests talked throughout multiple sessions about how their organizations are tackling some of the biggest challenges on the tech side by partnering with VMware and other platforms.

“We wanted to bring in different perspectives and different solution areas where people are utilizing our technology to solve real problems and drive outcomes that impact healthcare,” Robinson said.

Among the most vital needs for CTOs and IT specialists in the healthcare space are security, speed, flexibility, and familiarity. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation on the best digital strategies for healthcare organizations:

Moving Entire Systems to the Cloud

With the growing number of intricate cloud services, many healthcare organizations can get overwhelmed by which path to take. Sentara Healthcare, a nonprofit system that serves patients in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, recently tapped Azure VMware Solution as a core part of its hybrid cloud strategy. Russell, Sentara’s lead on the solution design side, said that option ensured a smooth data migration while minimizing the need to retrain staffers since Sentara’s IT team was already comfortable with VMware services. Taking that route also provided the flexibility to easily revert back if needed, Russell added, though that has yet to become the case after a solid half year. “When Azure came along it was a no-brainer as a stepping stone to get us up to the cloud quickly,” he told Estrada, VMware’s Senior Director of Healthcare Solutions. Today, Sentara operates a dozen hospitals in addition to several emergency departments, medical groups, and nursing centers with nearly 30,000 employees. The organization’s leadership team looked closely at latency and storage requirements as two key factors when deciding which of its enterprise apps to move to the cloud first. Once that was decided, a small core team focused its attention on internal testing to make sure everything was running smoothly on Azure, Russell noted.

Creating Sharper Security Measures

As vital as digital security is for every healthcare organization, it’s never uniform. Children’s Health System of Texas, one of the country’s largest pediatric healthcare systems, set out several years ago to update security measures within its data center. But technical limitations with user groups at the time made it “pretty tough to implement,” said Castle, who oversees the organization’s IT infrastructure. He told Estrada that Children’s Health had been looking into one of Cisco’s products but faced compatibility challenges. So, Castle and his team took a step back and explored other options. VMware’s NSX network virtualization and security platform had recently hit the market at the time and offered several benefits, Castle recalled. Among them were a more tailored product design allowing security to cover individual virtual machines as well as familiarity with how VMware services work. Taking a more granular approach to security allowed Children’s Health “to dynamically create new groups or update group membership as VMs were provisioned or decommissioned,” Castle said. “That helps to make sure your security policy doesn’t become irrelevant.” The transition still called for careful internal communication across departments. Children’s Health employs about 7,500 people and operates two main hospitals — one in Dallas and the other in Plano, Texas. The move to NSX gave the organization a chance to refresh its hardware while clearing several years of tech debt. Castle recommended starting small and building up rather than taking a “big bang approach” from the outset.

Employing Smarter Remote Operations

Much like telehealth, remote IT services in the field are continually expanding. Houston Methodist, a leading U.S. healthcare institution that serves patients throughout the large metro area, had no remote policy before the pandemic. At the same time, its new CTO had never led teams remotely. Francis, who joined the organization in April 2020, said leveraging the right resources for employees while tapping into talent beyond Texas required quick thinking. “I came in and we had to figure out how to catch up with the latest technology,” Francis told Estrada. Houston Methodist employs about 30,000 people and operates seven hospitals, as well as an academic medical center and primary care practice with more than 300 locations. A big hurdle in keeping remote operations running smoothly was driving wide-scale adoption of the right technologies, Francis said. Improving digital health services includes virtual visits, remote patient monitoring and engagement platforms, as well as RTLS tag tracking — all of which require higher bandwidth. “It’s starting to look like a smart hospital,” Estrada noted. Francis said his organization is constantly engaging in the latest 5G and edge computing networks as well as the latest Wi-Fi services from a handful of providers. On the cloud side, his organization works with VMware and other partners. While healthcare has traditionally focused on “access, cost, and quality,” that system has evolved to include virtual health services as an additional fourth leg, Francis maintained. Today’s medical providers can’t afford to fall behind on the latest technologies if they want to provide the best care, he added.

Read part 2 in this series here.


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