The landscape for healthcare is evolving. There are many trends affecting the healthcare industry. Providing healthcare today is much more than making a diagnosis or prescribing a medication.
Technology advances, such as CAT scans, imaging, and video are being used and carried over the network. Hospitals were the sole owners of the data, now retail pharmacies and private equity are getting involved. This means more data is being shared with stakeholders.
Regional and rural locations are increasing in number and present challenges in delivering reliable, high performing service. These locations are difficult to serve using existing network technology. As a result of this growth and dispersion, many organizations are going through a digital transformation. As part of this effort, they need to provide the following:
- Support for applications that are moving to the cloud
- Greater access to information for patients
- Improved performance for real time applications
- Support the growing use of mobile devices
- Compliance with data protection regulations and payment card standards
The advancements in medicine, the increase in regulations to protect patient and doctor, and the digitization of the entire process requires a scalable, secure, uninterrupted and bandwidth-flexible healthcare IT network.
Healthcare IT Environment
The healthcare information technology environment is changing rapidly. There is a large increase in the number and types of applications being used according to data from research group ESG, where (45%) of organizations reported this as a concern.1
Telemedicine technology is a big industry. It uses video which is bandwidth intensive and needs to work real time. Telemedicine is a growing segment at $40 billion and this puts pressure on the WAN links. According to ESG, 71% of physicians are using telemedicine. 55% of healthcare organizations are using VDI and this is bandwidth intensive and needs to work real time. All of this leads to higher data volumes, as reported by (43%) of those surveyed and this impacts the network, as more bandwidth is needed but costs need to be considered.2
There is a huge Increase in the number and type of endpoint devices reported by (34%) of organizations. Many organizations are having to support on-premises data centers and public cloud providers (34%). Many workers are using mobile devices and are working remotely at about (20%) of organizations. And everyone must comply with patient data protection regulations (100%).3
Healthcare Use Cases
There are five main use cases that we see our healthcare customers focusing on, where the network is critical.
1. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Clinicians are increasingly turning to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) so that they can easily use technology at the point of care to access electronic medical records (EMRs). VDI supports multiple devices, such as smartphones and tablets and it has robust security for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Telehealth heavily utilizes video conferencing as a virtual connection point between a patient and a care provider. It also leverages cloud applications to deliver access to EMRs and the sharing of high-resolution medical images. This unified communications (UC) application requires a high level of reliable bandwidth.
3. Quality of Service
When a patient requires over-the-phone care or physicians need to discuss patient cases for assessment and diagnosis, quality of service (QoS) is critical. Dropped calls or jitter-heavy connections are detrimental to providing high-quality care.
4. Pre- or Post-Treatment Payment
Healthcare offices and clinics often require patients to render payment at the time care is provided. This requires that offices provide either a payment device or an ATM connected to the network. Not only must this highly sensitive data be segmented from regular office traffic, but it must also adhere to PCI DSS Compliance regulations.
5. Remote Branch Offices, Clinics, and Pharmacies
Healthcare systems are moving to rural areas which are hard to serve with existing network technology. Growth by mergers and acquisition is a growing strategy for healthcare organizations, meaning that care is often shifted to small remote or regional branch offices. Each office must adhere to the same HIPAA and care requirements as primary care offices, and a reliable and secure network connection is needed.
Healthcare WAN is Complex
A major impediment to the transformation of healthcare is the network. The healthcare network has become complex. The many connections to the hospital, to remote offices, and to mobile devices increase complexity. There are issues with a lack of visibility into network traffic and performance.
There are also security challenges with keeping patient data safe. Healthcare facilities have relied on private links from service providers using MPLS technology between sites and primary centers of data.
MPLS is difficult to implement in every location, especially at smaller offices or clinics, due to its high cost and long provisioning times. More and more, healthcare is shifting away from MPLS and adopting SD-WAN either alongside it or as a substitute when MPLS contracts run out.
SD-WAN Can Transform the Network
The solution to the network issue is SD-WAN. There are many ways that SD-WAN can help reduce network complexity. SD-WAN ensures application performance and reliability, so you get an optimal customer experience. Application uptime over the WAN is enhanced for both cloud hosted applications and those in the corporate data center.
Deployment of SD-WAN is agile, as you can use any connection type, including broadband and wireless LTE. Devices are deployed with zero touch and automated configuration using templates. Network costs are reduced by using economical Internet bandwidth instead of private lines. IT costs are lowered by simplifying management using a centralized orchestrator. The application of security measures is also simplified through automation and being able to direct traffic to services in the cloud.
A more reliable network with better security enables the organization to deploy new applications and reach remote locations with minimal risk. It also enables compliance with regulations. SD-WAN allows this digital shift to occur without compromising security and while keeping in compliance with HIPAA, SOC2, and other regulations.
Check out these healthcare resources of interest:
1, 2, 3 Enterprise Strategy Group “A Prescription for Improved Patient Experience” 2018