Healthcare organizations desire a seamlessly Connected Healthcare system, with all of an individual’s health-related information available to every care team member at each patient encounter. This may seem beyond reach, but healthcare organizations can take practical steps toward this goal, whether they are starting with the basics or at the forefront of innovation. In this article, the second in our Journey to Connected Healthcare series, we will begin providing a picture of a new, attainable Connected Healthcare network approach, or reference architecture, discussing enabling Network as a Service (NaaS) technologies and use cases. We will start at the beginning, with moving from a basic network, the challenges it poses, and the means for healthcare organizations to overcome them.
Today’s Traditional Healthcare Network
To start, what does a basic, or traditional, healthcare network look like, and what are some examples of its challenges?
- Physical access points, switches, and routers (Customer Premise Equipment)
- Internet Dedicated Services, Private IP (Multi-Protocol Label Switching)
- Challenges: limited versatility and optimization for variety of cloud services/apps, changes require updates to, and possibly movement of, individual physical network components, replacement cycles
- Performed by the healthcare organization without a partner or managed services provider
- Challenges: acquiring, training, maintaining staff with network and security expertise, keeping up with these increasingly complex fields
- A focus on perimeter defense with physical firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and antivirus.
- Challenges: timely detection, response, recovery from incidents and breaches, as well as correlation across variety of user and network devices, and limited control over devices themselves
- Network performance monitoring and diagnostics
- Challenges: application performance and end-user experience insights (understanding clinical value).
- Limited, not centrally-managed
- Challenges: timely detection, response, recovery from faults and outages, lengthy provisioning and policy update processes
This basic network has likely been pieced together over time, with various components rolled out to coincide with the introduction of new service lines, administrative functions, and technologies. It has likely been updated through re-alignments and changes to clinical practices and business processes, each time with great effort from the organization’s IT team and with great impact felt by network users.
A healthcare organization must move beyond maintaining a basic network with its own IT team, as this approach is not sustainable: expectations from stakeholders are high, advances in networking are rapid, requirements for security and privacy are great, and the talent needed for them is scarce.
When building a new Connected Healthcare network, care organizations should strive for the network to have two key attributes:
- The network should be invisible to the user, something s/he does not have to think about, regardless of device or location. Most importantly it should be reliable and deliver secure connectivity.
- The network should be easy for the organization to manage. It should be flexible, programmable, scalable, reliable, and, of course, cloud-centric.
So What Should This Connected Healthcare Network Look Like?
Primarily, all information relevant for patient care should flow through the network across the ecosystem of participants, care models, processes, systems, and devices, both inside and outside facility walls, with appropriate security and privacy controls. Secondly, the network should facilitate basic uses, like data entry for admission, through to advanced uses, such as intelligent video to monitor for patient falls, with a combination of wired, Wi-Fi, and cellular connections. And finally, the network should allow for regular changes to the ecosystem, smoothly expanding and reconfiguring to accommodate them.
This is what a high-level view of this network would look like:
Moving from the Basic Network to the Connected Healthcare Network
The healthcare organization should engage a trusted partner for the journey and work with them to determine its network vision. This partner should help the organization assess its current network capabilities, then contemplate how all aspects of its new network should be delivered in a flexible, scalable manner (NaaS), including:
- Cloud-based connection services (one-to-many cloud service providers)
- Hybrid connectivity and Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD WAN)
- Virtual Network Services
- Next generation Wireless Limited Area Network (WLAN or Wi-Fi)
- Visibility services
The partner should then help the organization design an implementation plan based on its priorities and financing approach. Finally, the partner should help build the network the organization envisioned, then operate and maintain it.
Because a partner will play such a critical role in the journey to Connected Healthcare, a healthcare organization should choose wisely. These are the critical characteristics to consider:
- Can the partner address all six of the aspects of NaaS outlined above?
- Can the partner deliver an end-to-end solution, providing all components of all six aspects?
- Does the partner have significant experience delivering the solution and a reputation for excellence?
Since a Connected Healthcare network will be the foundation for the organization to deliver truly connected healthcare, a trusted partner is a must. In finding and working with this partner, the organization will be able to address concerns about access, cost, and quality and empower the organization to pursue healthcare that embodies 4P medicine; medicine that is truly predictive, preventative, personalized, and participative.
In our next article, we will examine specific NaaS technologies that can help healthcare organizations move forward from a basic network, to efficient, enhanced, and then truly innovative, flexible, and scalable, requiring less equipment, triggering fewer incidents, and easing the burdens of monitoring, incident response, and administration. Also, we will delve into some of the healthcare use cases that can be achieved at each of these points along the journey, with an aim toward efficient 4P medicine.
Did you miss the first part of our Journey to Connected Healthcare series? You can find it 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.