By Hilary Nalven, Director, Healthcare Segment, Zayo Group
With HIMSS 2016 underway, a key topic of conversation centers on mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Last year, large industry-leading deals characterized healthcare M&A with announcements form Aetna and Humana, Anthem and Cigna, and a large, nationwide movement of private practice acquisitions by hospitals and healthcare systems.
Consolidation of these systems was another big story, with Barnabas Health and Robert Wood Johnson Health System combining their 11 hospitals to form RWJ Barnabas Health (now New Jersey’s largest health system) and Prime Healthcare Services’ takeover of six-hospital Daughters of Charity Health System, among many others.
Additional activity is forecast for 2016. This means IT infrastructure will face a number of new, growing challenges with as healthcare evolves, including:
- Integrating multiple technology ecosystems: Many hospitals use proprietary architectures and infrastructure to connect, report, and store information. Some healthcare systems even still use paperwork.
- Consolidating independent providers: Widespread, effective data sharing is not yet in place. Few physicians can operate in the ecosystem of a single electronic medical record, since they often work in systems that are different from other hospitals and places of care.
- Maintaining flexibility to scale: As a system consolidates and grows, IT and network infrastructure can be a major cost center if that system isn’t prepared to meet demand.
- Compliance: Federal and state legislation such as HIPAA, HITECH and TX-HB300 include regulatory guidelines that impact IT. As systems consolidate, compliance with these regulations is of paramount importance.
To address the challenges, there are IT network investments that healthcare organizations can leverage today to position for growth. They include:
Scalable bandwidth solutions: As organizations merge and expand, bandwidth demands grow rapidly — both to support a greater user base and to meet the needs of new technological innovations like high-definition video, telehealth and EMR systems. The best options for secure, scalable private network solutions include:
- Dark fiber solutions are infinitely scalable with near-limitless bandwidth. With a dark fiber solution, it’s easy to add exponentially more capacity without interruptions to care delivery.
- Wavelengths services include large-capacity lit options to transfer up to 100Gbps via private dedicated networks, with encryption options for optimal security.
- Carrier-class Ethernet solutions deliver 10gb to 100gb of protected bandwidth between LANs and WANs across metro, intercity and transatlantic routes. On-site control of all equipment will provide maximum physical and network security. Ideally, Ethernet should support services such as VoIP, video and more, with low-latency options for seamless transmission of care-critical services.
Colocation & connectivity solutions: New regulations have made EMR a requirement for most organizations, and that means data storage and security aren’t negotiable. Some options to scale securely and quickly include:
- Colocation: Hospital systems can save capital expense on deployment, monitoring and maintenance by choosing to colocate equipment in data center environment – providing better network and physical security, uninterrupted power and cooling, greater redundancy and backup, and a total commitment to a hospital’s business continuity.
- Interconnection: Metro interconnect services provide a virtual presence in key locations where organizations don’t have a physical presence. It helps connect IT deployments from across multiple data centers.
Cloud infrastructure solutions: Managed connectivity is the easiest to scale, since it merely involves provisioning more space or capacity from the service provider.
Hybrid Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) options enable scalability in a compliant environment without major capital investments with a flexible, adaptable, customizable infrastructure solution. End-to-end IaaS solutions allow healthcare IT to manage all of their IT systems across an integrated infrastructure platform, while providing ultimate flexibility to adapt as requirements change.
As the landscape of healthcare in the U.S. continues to evolve due to new regulations and access to innovation, the demands on IT to change with it as well. Flexibility, scalability and adaptability need to be hard-wired into any new solution.
Mergers, acquisitions and consolidation are a fact of life for the changing landscape. Fortunately, technology can help to keep care providers doing what they do best: providing great care to patients.