For healthcare providers, regardless of whether they are private, public, or government operated entities, a network outage is not an option. However, for government healthcare providers, particularly those in the Department of Defense, an IT failure – whether a network outage, or security breach – not only puts lives at risks, but can have a direct impact on the agency’s ability to meet the mission.
This is a critical issue across the DoD as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—the two largest federal entities. In these agencies’ healthcare environments, there is no margin for error; the network must always be up and running, and doctors and nurses must be able to access patient data 24/7.
Adding to the challenge is the size of healthcare networks and the vast amount of data they store. Think about every DoD and VA facility and how each must be part of the greater agency network. Then consider each patient, each visit, and each type of illness—and every record and scan associated with that patient and illness—that must be stored and tracked across the environment. On top of that is the day-to-day operations of each facility, with financial and HR departments, which may itself encompass a large enterprise.
For a federal IT pro in this environment, what is the best way to monitor and keep this type of extremely large health IT network running smoothly and consistently? The answer can be found by implementing the following five best-practice steps.
Step 1: Gain Visibility
Tracking network performance is one of the best ways to understand and mitigate problems that might affect your environment. And, one of the best ways to track network performance is to enhance visibility across the entire enterprise.
Agencies should invest in a set of tools that not only provides network and system monitoring, but also provides a view that spans across the environment.
With this capability, federal IT pros will have knowledge of server health, for example, which will help to more effectively predict potential problems. It will also provide the visibility necessary to troubleshoot network problems or outages, resolve configuration issues, and support end-users and systems from a central location.
Step 2: Secure All Devices
Federal IT pros working within healthcare networks are particularly aware of the challenges of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT). From a security perspective, risks are high as healthcare staff and patients alike connect to a facility’s Wi-Fi. And, countless endpoints—including medical devices—must be managed, monitored, and controlled.
It is critical to put extra emphasis on protecting the network from whatever connects to it by carefully monitoring and treating every single device or “thing” as a potential threat or point of vulnerability.
Step 3: Gain Full Visibility and Governance of File Transfer Activity
Continuing with the visibility theme, it’s critical to ensure visibility into file transfer operations—being able to access real-time file transfer statistics and track File Transfer Protocol logs is another essential piece of healthcare network stability.
Having the ability to review these logs will provide timely compliance violation notifications, insight into reasons for errors (when or why a file transfer failed), an audit trail for compliance, and will be able to diagnose potential threats—such as repeated attempts at a failed login.
Step 4: Enhance Firewall Management
With networks as large as most healthcare environments, firewalls can become an issue. With so many firewalls in place, the network administrator can easily accumulate an ever-growing list of conflicting and redundant rules and objects, which can cause mayhem in firewall management.
Federal IT pros should regularly run automated scripts and, to help save time and effort, leverage a firewall management tool to help identify conflicting rules, remove redundancies, and generally streamline the access control list structure.
Step 5: Implement an Automation Tool
Time. This can be the federal IT pro’s greatest challenge—especially working with healthcare environments that push the limits of 24/7 demands.
While the four previous steps help form the foundation of a smooth and consistent environment, this fifth step is the most critical for pulling the previous four together. Adding automation is the difference between monitoring problems and fixing them manually, and implementing a complete solution.
Ensuring that the environment has the ability to monitor performance and automatically handle the response can be the difference between success and failure. It can also be the difference between receiving a call at 3:00 a.m. to fix a problem or being able to sleep soundly and having the system fix itself.
This article originally appeared on Federal Technology Insider.