Comment: Health networks - delivering the future of healthcare

Comment: Health networks - delivering the future of healthcare

24-Jan-2014

Jim Gerrity, director of global industry marketing at Ciena, discusses the role of networks in helping healthcare organisations move to cloud solutions

Jim Gerrity, director of global industry marketing at Ciena, discusses the role the network can play in not only helping the health sector move towards a fully-converged cloud solution, but also improving operating efficiencies in the process

Organisations in the healthcare industry are experiencing an explosive growth in medical data.

A 2012 Ponemon Institute survey found that 30% of the world’s data storage resides in the healthcare industry, with 45% of respondents saying their facilities were planning a storage upgrade of one terabyte or more in the next 12 months.

The data deluge facing the healthcare industry is set to improve patient care significantly and is an unavoidable reality as more and more patient data shifts to the digital world

This means healthcare organisations are increasingly reliant on digital storage and technology that ensures constant connectivity, accessibility of the information and their preparedness for disaster.

Due to the pressure from growing amounts of data, healthcare organisations are continuously looking for ways to improve efficiency through digitalisation. This includes a transition from curative volume-based care to more-preventive value-based care models, continuity of care, knowledge sharing, patient privacy and cost-effectiveness. At the same time, these organisations face challenges of meeting government regulation, specifically with regards to the management of patient data and ensuring its accessibility at all times. Now, more than ever, healthcare organisations rely on the network to cope with these increasing requirements, and to enable an always-connected healthcare environment.

Data explosion – how did we get to this point?

There are a number of reasons healthcare organisations are experiencing a data deluge. For example, Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are increasingly moving online as organisations look to digitise healthcare records to improve patient services and the quality of care - just sharing medical records could use up to 195 GigaBytes per year.

Medical imaging applications are also generating huge storage and network bandwidth needs. As centralised storage needs continue to grow, bandwidth and latency demands will put additional pressure on communication networks. Additional factors contributing to this demand include an increasingly-competitive landscape, an aging population, and the desire for new innovative ways to deliver patient care. This shift is creating an exponential problem in data creation, storage growth and disaster preparedness which is unprecedented in healthcare technology.

Now, more than ever, healthcare organisations rely on the network to cope with these increasing requirements, and to enable an always-connected healthcare environment

Chief Medical Information Officers (CMIOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are not only looking for solutions to this data deluge, but also ways to comply with a wide ranging set of industry and government regulations. One example in the US is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which mandates the security and protection of personal health information (PHI), not to mention other voluntary standards, such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in the UK. For global healthcare organisations, this means compliance with multiple standards and regulations, adding complexity to the network. To comply with each standard, organisations design their networks to meet the strictest regulations, because failure to do so could result in not being able to operate in markets where the organisation does not meet compliance criteria.

Healthy networks – how to make them a strategic business asset

The backbone of the system that must handle the ongoing data explosion is the underlying communication networks that handle the transfer of data and provide access to geographically-dispersed storage. These networks must ensure the constant availability of the data, meeting compliance requirements in each country, and providing off-site data storage backup and retrieval. The requirements of the network are closely linked to what sort of data is being stored and what pressures are placed on the network by enabling the accessibility of that data. One of the major considerations for healthcare organisations is to adopt high bandwidth, low-latency networks to support the increase in digital health records across the healthcare stakeholder eco-system. To enable that accessibility and ensure data backup and protection, storage should be centralised, and bandwidth increased to do so. Bandwidth-heavy applications add further to network demands. A healthy network is one that can be effectively programmed to prioritise the availability and transfer of traffic. Real-time telesurgery video and data, for example, must take precedence over less critical, non-clinical institutional network traffic.

For many healthcare providers around the globe, Ethernet services can be a good resource by offering more granular, incremental network upgrades than legacy offerings and are therefore more cost effective for healthcare providers. Carrier class Ethernet allows organisations to define attributes to specific applications and the set-up of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to define disaster recovery policies. It can also guarantee performance, including latency, jitter, Committed Information Rate (CIR) and packet loss rates. Data prioritisation is also key for backup and disaster recovery as certain clinical systems are more critical. Other systems such as email also need disaster recovery, but less bandwidth, and the network must be intelligent enough to recognise these different requirements.

Healthcare organisations are increasingly reliant on digital storage and technology that ensures constant connectivity, accessibility of the information and their preparedness for disaster

The growth of Ethernet services in recent years is significant, and the introduction of Ethernet standards has accelerated its adoption. By standardising architectures suitable to large-scale deployment, healthcare organisations are able to access more visibility into the network and guarantee better performance. Ethernet also enables greater control over routing information and security and encryption techniques for healthcare providers.

As the shape of the organisation and the network changes, Ethernet enables companies to improve the time they spend on managing security, allowing them to access the security management domain of systems.

Preparing for the future of healthcare

The data deluge facing the healthcare industry is set to improve patient care significantly and is an unavoidable reality as more and more patient data shifts to the digital world. The benefits to patient care and organisational efficiency are clear, but this presents its own complexities. Adhering to multiple sets of regulation means disaster recovery and security is key, and the network plays a critical role in ensuring these demands are met. Healthcare organisations must modernise their networks to ensure they are prepared to provide the best patient care possible in the new digital healthcare world.

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