The Network is the Lifeblood of Today’s Digital Hospital

March 8, 2017 John Moynihan

Hospital systems are as complex as they come. They are the lifeblood of the hospital and in order to run efficiently they require a strategy. We are seeing that organizations are focusing more time and resources on applications and devices and implementing these critical solutions like EMR and PACS, and spending less time on the underlying infrastructure and the technology required to make all these apps and devices run and work successfully. One of the reasons for this disconnect is that often times IT has a hard time communicating to executives that new infrastructure is required for these new initiatives to work, and then when they don’t work as expected everyone points the finger at IT. It’s a double-edged sword.

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse…

An example of this comes from a hospital that was one of the first Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM) Stage 6 hospital in Australia. EMRAM is a scale that was developed by HIMSS and rates a hospital’s implementation and use of EMR on a scale of 1-7 – Where Stage 1 is a hospital that has just started using EMR and is still mostly using paper and Stage 7 is where a hospital is fully electronic. This hospital achieved Stage 6 status by investing in and implementing critical clinical applications as well as providing extensive training and overhauling existing clinical workflows. Once the install and training was complete and they were able to flip the switch on they found that there were many areas where things were not working the way they should – the system was broken. They realized that while they had been focusing on implementing all these apps, they had done nothing to ensure that the infrastructure would be able to support it. The result was a huge negative financial and clinical impact to the hospital. The cost overrun they incurred could have been avoided if they had updated the infrastructure first.

The Network As A Tool

A connected medical device that is vulnerable on the network can literally endanger a patient’s life. If a connected insulin pump can be hacked into and the reading of glucose levels can be manipulated this could cause the pump to inject the wrong dosage of insulin putting that patient’s life at risk. Clinical networks must go beyond simply providing the “plumbing”. They need to be a tool to help healthcare organizations to improve clinical outcomes by focusing on IoT as well as applications, intelligence and control. Extreme delivers Software Defined Networks (SDN) that are built with intelligence and enable hospitals to see, manage and control the users, applications and devices on their clinical networks, whether it is infusion pumps, critical EMR and PACS applications, or BYOD devices that clinicians, patients, and family bring into the hospital environment.   Extreme does this in a way that makes sense for the organization and makes it easy for resource strapped IT organizations to mitigate risk associated with regulatory compliance and patient privacy.

While on the subject of regulatory compliance, at HIMSS17 we announced our latest healthcare solution, our new Information Governance Engine. Information Governance (IG) applied to PHI (Protected Healthcare Information) has become an important best practice in healthcare, and this applies to not just the technological layer but the physical layer as well. Unfortunately, for network infrastructures, current processes require IT to perform manual audits that are complex, error prone and time consuming. The Information Governance Engine replaces this with a fully automated and repeatable solution that works in the background 27/7/365, completes assessments in minutes and yields consistent scoring of a network’s compliance to HIPPA and PCI. You can learn more about it here. 

Build An Intelligent Network

So, how do you bring your hospital network into the 21st century and have it work as a both a business and clinical tool instead of being just a piece of infrastructure? For starters, you need to make sure your network provides these 5 things:

  1. Granular visibility and control – There are now more connected devices than employees in a hospital. With so many devices, it’s become cumbersome to manage and traditional means of logging into every switch and AP simply doesn’t scale. Devices need to be managed from a single workstation through a single pane of glass. This universal control and management allows organizations to respond quickly and is necessary to safeguard devices and patients.
  2. Scalability – The intelligence capabilities of the network must be able to scale to keep up with the increased complexity of a clinical network while maintaining the functionality of older, legacy devices and systems.
  3. Pervasive Wireless – The number of wireless devices in hospitals has surpassed wired devices. Wireless coverage needs to be pervasive – literally in every nook and cranny of the hospital that requires access.  Patients can’t be moved around easily to accommodate dark areas.
  4. Automated NAC/Policy-based Application Delivery – Hospitals need to automate Network Access Control (NAC), so the network can automatically recognize a medical device, apply a set of rules as soon as it plugs in, and then apply policies by application and device type.
  5. Analytics – With analytics, hospitals can take all the information they’ve garnered about their entire network and put it to work for them to improve patient care and hospital services.

The bottom line is that everything circles back to the network and without a solid network infrastructure to support new initiatives and applications it’s impossible to be successful. At Extreme we are working to deliver a network that is so much more than just infrastructure. An Extreme network is an intelligent network that can be used as a tool to help hospitals deliver all of the cutting edge services to improve patient care – which is what every hospital should be striving for.

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