By Eileen Haggerty, Senior Director Enterprise Business Operations, NETSCOUT
The business of healthcare has changed. Today’s healthcare organizations, much like any enterprise, depend wholeheartedly on technology. They live and breathe the many benefits of digital transformation (DX) and have steadily introduced new technologies to help deliver the end-goals of high quality patient care and greater operational efficiencies.
Healthcare providers are now improving patient care by adopting a variety of applications that demand trouble-free, real-time access to information in their IT environment. EHRs, imaging services, e-prescription services, BYOD initiatives, Wi-Fi expansion, and unified communications, coupled with telemedicine, are all, or will be, inextricably linked in the healthcare service-delivery chain. But they are stretching networks resources to capacity.
While there is no denying the positive impact DX is having, the challenge created at the same time, however, is increased complexity of the IT networks that power today’s healthcare organizations which are highly susceptible to performance issues. This, in turn, has led to a well-recognized need for greater visibility into the data crossing healthcare networks and a view of how to better manage the technology itself.
In the current healthcare landscape, quick and efficient access to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) is critical. Information sharing with imaging systems, scheduling software, and e-prescriptions is a necessity for efficient patient care and in many cases depend on Health Level 7 (HL7) as a standardized approach to multi-vendor, system-wide interoperability. This is going a long way towards making this target a reality in order to improve patient care.
While improving patient care has undoubtedly become a primary driver behind DX, it is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. With digital services already deeply integral to healthcare, spanning EMR/EHRs, digital imaging, e-prescription services, and unified communications, digital transformation is going to increasingly enhance and refine operational processes, improve the patient experience, and reduce costs. For example, one of the critical components for healthcare providers is the continuous availability for medical personnel to patient records for safe, informed treatment.
The ability to monitor, assess, and trend performance metrics and EHR activity (e.g. response time analysis) is crucial for successful clinical practice and health services to recognize when slowdowns are occurring so they can address them before the service becomes completely unavailable. In some countries it’s a regulatory requirement to ensure the availability of patient records to medical personnel for treatment and safety, e.g. HIPAA in the U.S.
Another benefit of monitoring healthcare networks and patient records is for visibility into nefarious activity within the network and from outsiders. Protecting patient health and financial data are part of the objectives of compliance with the Data Protection Act in the U.K., the Data Protection Directive in the EU, and HIPAA and PCI in the U.S. — and this can turn into a particularly complex situation.
In addition to applications and services being added, CIOs in healthcare organizations are faced with the pressing need to keep up with the pace of technology. As a result, they’re introducing next generation technologies in an attempt to improve overall efficiency, speed, and security of their networks. Developments in software defined data centers, network virtualization, cloud, and mobility are all contributing to this.
Healthcare organizations are increasingly building out new data centers to handle the ever-growing demands on their networks, and the applications and services they need to support. By capitalizing on real-time insights from their existing deployments and data pulled from their own network traffic, they can have a powerful view of how network performance will shape up before it’s even launched.
It also means new tools and services can be introduced with confidence, as the impact they’ll have on the network can be more accurately planned for ahead of time. This is particularly helpful as we continue to move towards virtualized network environments, with holistic network and application performance management becoming part of the building blocks of software-defined networking.
The Importance Of Network And Application Visibility
The reason it’s vital to have better insight into network and application performance of services across the network is due to how this environment is constantly changing. Unlike any other enterprise, healthcare organizations do not have a typical business day. There aren’t even regular users when you consider the infinite variety of physician and nurse schedules and the number/type of patients every day — making demand on the network and services unpredictable at best.
Protecting patient care in today’s hyper-connected world, then, depends almost entirely on protecting and optimizing the wired and wireless network and the services that run through them. Yet this challenge is amplified by the fact much of the functionality healthcare organizations rely on, including key services and applications, are multi-vendor. In any network environment that’s built upon stitching together siloed technologies, it’s essential to ensure everything is running smoothly and working together. It’s a tall order at the best of times, but one that’s made even more complicated when you add in how these services are running atop a combination of physical and virtualized environments, presenting additional challenges for network visibility.
These issues appear somewhat removed from the primary goal of improving the patient experience on the surface. However, when you look closer, any negative impact on the network quickly comes back full circle to the challenges associated with effectively caring for a patient. Any delays in access to information, from appointments to live diagnostic data, and from treatment to e-prescription services insurance approval to drug interactions, will impact their experience in a negative way. The reality is that even scheduled downtime is a major problem for healthcare organizations, so it’s no surprise the issue is amplified when it’s unscheduled from an application error or attack.
Healthcare organizations depend on high availability as they adopt new digital services, which are driving the industry’s critical need for visibility and service assurance before, during, and after implementing these transformative technologies.
About The Author
As Sr. Director of Enterprise Business Operations, Eileen is responsible for working with enterprise customers to ensure that NETSCOUT’s service assurance and cyber security solutions are meeting the needs of our customers and the market. Eileen has over 15 years working at NETSCOUT where she has held several product management and marketing roles. Prior to joining NETSCOUT, Eileen leveraged her MBA from Boston College working in a variety of technical marketing roles at Motorola Codex, Racal Data Group, and Celox Networks.