By Patrick McCabe, Nuage Networks, Nokia
Digital technology is helping to transform today’s healthcare system into one that is more aware, collaborative and patient-centric. This is part of a small revolution in healthcare to provide more precise, effective care for patients, whether in-hospital or remote. Unfortunately, existing legacy IT networks are limiting the transformational possibilities of these technologies. The way forward lies in new software-defined networks (SDN and SD-WAN) that will provide an affordable, reliable and secure platform for the next steps in the delivery of value-based healthcare.
Patients are becoming increasingly informed and are demanding care services that are more value-based and consultative. While patient-centric care has been shown to improve outcomes, it requires greater integration and transparency between healthcare deliverers, which means greater integration and transparency between networks for the sharing of imaging, test results and patient data.
Telemedicine is opening up the field of remote patient management, especially of chronic conditions. We are seeing many advances, such as remote patient monitoring (RPM) with smart wearables and embedded sensors in artificial hips and knees, pacemakers and hearing aids. Advanced analytics and machine-learning programs, embedded in decision-support software, also can be employed to augment physician care with data-driven insights from sensors, gene sequencing and digital diagnostic procedures.
Assembling the relevant data to drive these applications is often the most difficult aspect. Data, diagnostics and sensor feedback are all trapped in their own data silos. Although leveraging cloud storage and computing is the way the industry must move forward, securely handling multiple health teams, locations, devices and the massive volumes of health data in the cloud creates a highly complex situation for IT managers.
Currently, legacy healthcare systems contain statically configured network islands that — if linked — are often awkwardly stitched together and managed from multiple management systems. As a result, there is little control and visibility of individual medical applications, essential data is spread across many different locations and they rarely leverage cloud services to complement existing compute capabilities. There is also usually no system-wide security management and no automated way to have the network adjust to sudden fluctuations in demand, such as with the processing of a genome sequence or the transfer of multiple bandwidth-heavy imaging files which may stress the network beyond its capacity.
Next generation software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) or ‘SD-WAN 2.0’ has the ability to provide the interconnection needed between these isolated network islands by abstracting the network WAN underlay transport and providing a set of intelligent software-defined overlay paths. A central policy repository defines business- and application-specific rules that dynamically optimize traffic across these paths, including defining the specification of proper failover mechanisms to work around faults and service disruptions. In this way, SD-WAN 2.0 automates the provisioning, configuration and management of the WAN to ensure optimal quality of service (QoS) at the lowest cost, all the while meeting strict healthcare policy and security requirements for each application.
From the IT manager’s perspective, SD-WAN 2.0 can present the multiple network islands as a single network through one pane of glass. The SD-WAN solution should provide a flexible and hierarchical network policy framework that enables IT administrators to define and enforce resource policies and administer users, compute and network resources. Security policies can be applied across the whole network or targeted at specific applications or domains.
In a typical healthcare network, there will be a number of key sites to connect: a main datacenter or centers that contain patient records and other resources, access to cloud-based compute, storage and even SaaS applications, and connections to individual health agencies, from labs and medical imaging, to doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. There also will be remote patients connecting over the internet or wirelessly through wearable devices. Most of these end points can be pre-configured for deployment and managed or updated remotely by the healthcare network administrator.
Practically, this means that most of the networking issues holding back digitally advanced, patient-centric healthcare can be solved by SD-WAN 2.0. It not only interconnects the various network islands, but it also provides a cost-effective and simple way to manage them. Automation and policies, once set up, take on much of the complexity and busy-work involved in managing the network. It also eliminates human errors, which are the number-one cause of network service failures.
SD-WAN 2.0, in this way, provides a network platform for the digital transformation of healthcare. With it, hospitals and their supporting agencies can adopt system-wide, digitally-based clinical workflows through the sharing of electronic health records, high-resolution digital imagery and sensor data from remote patient monitoring (RPM). Analytics and machine learning also can provide predictive and real-time information to improve performance and outcomes. Supported by SD-WAN, this analytics-driven and cloud-based connected platform can enable hospitals, clinics and partner organizations to collaborate, share and innovate in order to deliver better healthcare.
About The Author
Patrick McCabe is a senior marketing manager at Nuage Networks and is responsible for promoting SDN products and solutions for service providers and enterprises. Patrick has held several engineering, sales, and marketing roles during his 25 years in the telecommunications industry. He was educated at St Francis Xavier University and Technical University of Nova Scotia (DalTech), and holds Bachelor and a Masters degrees in Engineering.