In this article, the fourth in our Journey to Connected Healthcare series, we will review some of the Network as a Service (NaaS) technologies a healthcare organization can adopt to move in their digital transformation journey from an Efficient to an Enhanced network. We will also dive deep into a use case: hospital asset tracking.
In our last article, we discussed what we might find in an efficient healthcare network. Now, we can examine a sample of solutions a care organization could use to build an enhanced network:
- Virtual Network Services (or Network Function Virtualization)
- Engaging a partner for Managed Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SDWAN) and Wireless Limited Area Network (SDWLAN) (or next-generation Wi-Fi)
- Secure cloud solutions
- Managed Detection and Response (MDR)
- Application performance monitoring
Let’s unpack each of these technologies:
Virtual Network Services
Virtual Network Services takes network functions like routers, switches, firewalls, session border controllers, WAN optimizers, etc., and offers them on virtual machines, which can be deployed on a single piece of hardware or in the cloud. This allows for the most efficient use of hardware and reduces the amount that needs to be replaced on a regular basis, as well as more frequent updating of the virtual functions.
Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SDWAN) shifts management of routing from individual router devices to centralized controllers and allows for the efficient use of multiple forms of connectivity, such as private IP, broadband, 5G fixed wireless access, and satellite. It can also enable advanced features such as policy-based and application-aware routing, which considers the type of traffic being sent when choosing the appropriate path for it.
SDWAN can enhance network performance and availability, as well as user experience and productivity, through intelligently utilizing multiple forms of connectivity. Engaging a trusted partner for management can help to ensure the SDWAN is installed, optimized, and maintained effectively, without the need to train or hire staff to cover this new technology.
Software-Defined Wireless Limited Area Network (SDWLAN) is similar to SDWAN, but for Wi-Fi, managing wireless access points centrally in order to offer advanced features, like accurate asset tracking and guided wayfinding in covered facilities. SDWLAN is also similar to SDWAN in that it can vastly improve user Wi-Fi experience in terms of location accuracy and advanced functionality. Once again, engaging a trusted partner for management can help to ensure the SDWLAN is installed, optimized, and maintained effectively.
Secure Cloud Solutions
Secure cloud solutions include:
- Secure Web Gateway (SWG) to encrypt traffic, block access to suspicious web addresses, filter inappropriate content, etc.
- Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) to monitor and protect access to enterprise cloud applications
- Data Loss Prevention (DLP) to help protect against sharing important data through email, file sharing, etc.
As the use of web applications and collaboration tools increases, secure cloud solutions help protect the workers who use them, whether they are in the office or working remotely. These are essential components of a Secure Service Edge.
Managed Detection and Response (MDR)
MDR monitors network devices, and often endpoints, from PCs and mobile devices to the Internet of Medical Things, by compiling their logs and analyzing them for Indicators of Compromise, often using Artificial Intelligence for initial analysis, with escalation to Security Operations Center staff as needed. Further, MDR automatically responds to certain Indicators of Compromise based on a playbook of predefined actions, for example, resetting a user account that appears to have been stolen. This is typically performed through a Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) system.
When a cybersecurity incident occurs, the speed of response is critical–the longer a bad actor is in a system, the more damage they can do. Automating a response increases the speed with which it can be applied and ensures consistency.
Application Performance Monitoring
Application performance monitoring goes beyond the network into infrastructure and application performance, from the cloud or data center through to the end-user experience. It provides insight into end-to-end application behavior across its digital supply chain.
Simple network analysis may suggest availability and normal functioning when certain applications are not performing optimally over the network. To help ensure applications are performing as intended for end users over a network, the performance of those applications must be monitored as well.
NaaS: An Integrated Solution
As we noted in previous articles, NaaS solutions such as these should be provided as an integrated service to the healthcare organization, not as a number of disparate solutions–be sure to choose a partner that can provide a reliable, fully-integrated, end-to-end solution.
NaaS Use Case: Hospital Asset Tracking
So, what use cases might these technologies enable? Let’s review one, hospital asset tracking, which utilizes SDWLAN and falls under the patient care portion of our Healthcare Reference Architecture (below).
When a healthcare organization’s clinicians need to provide patient care, they need the right tools at their fingertips. This is where SDWLAN, hospital asset tracking, and guided wayfinding come into the picture.
Nurses often have trouble locating assets and inventory needed for patient care: bladder scanners, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, glucometers, thermometers, mobile monitors, etc. These pieces of essential equipment are left in supply rooms, patient rooms, closets, different departments, etc. and, inevitably, some are stolen. There is often no tracking of frequency of use, and maintenance/update needs, like firmware, frequently go undocumented and unattended.
With hospital asset tracking and guided wayfinding, nurses can search efficiently for assets and inventory, note usage, and document maintenance needs. Furthermore, healthcare asset and inventory managers can track utilization. Ultimately, nurses are enabled to spend more time on patient care, with assets and inventory deployed at points of greatest need, ready for use, and with asset and inventory managers able to critically analyze needs and deployment strategy to hone requisition budgets.
To attract and retain nursing staff, care organizations must provide them the tools they need to provide quality, unencumbered patient care–this will enhance their satisfaction and productivity. America is in the midst of a nursing crisis, severely straining health systems in myriad ways, and this is projected to worsen in the years ahead. Thus, this use case is of great interest to most care organizations.
In the next article, we will examine the NaaS technologies that can help healthcare organizations move from an enhanced to an innovative network and review another healthcare use case on our journey to truly Connected Healthcare and efficient 4P medicine.
Did you miss the other part of our Journey to Connected Healthcare series? You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
The author, Brett Barganz, is a Solutions Executive, for Connected Healthcare, at Verizon. Brett has expertise in leading public service organizations through their visions of change, especially technology transformation for Network as a Service and Connected Healthcare.