One of the major issues facing healthcare providers is that of the huge volume of electronic patient records and the need to move to a more localised management solution that can demonstrate value for money. Cloud technology is an obvious answer, but recent research from Alcatel-Lucent shows that the healthcare industry is one of the key sectors where reluctance to embrace the cloud is highest.
While this is partially due to concerns about safeguarding confidential patient information, many healthcare IT departments are burdened with outdated legacy systems. Manish Sablok, Head of Marketing for CNE Europe at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, takes a look at the issues facing many healthcare providers and their networks in particular, and examines one example of how a private cloud approach to infrastructure had a positive impact on patient care.
An IT infrastructure that supports local decision-making needs to be able to meet the challenges facing healthcare organisations today – multiple critical life-saving applications which are constantly being used by different employees in different departments, all at the same time. Applications such as patient records, payroll, patient billing, telemedicine, patient care monitoring applications and laboratory results all require the same level of access and performance simultaneously. Meanwhile, in such care applications, downtime cannot be tolerated, and high availability is required at all times.
Add to this the increase in the use of multiple devices across healthcare organisations and there is a clear need for improved technology.
A delicate balance between network security, usability and cost
So there is the ever increasing need for bandwidth, storage, and the availability of more flexible network services so that healthcare employees can respond with agility and for controlling capital expenses.
The cloud, where information is stored on an external network of servers and accessed via the web, is becoming a very attractive solution in many industries. But in the healthcare industry it is a very forward concept, especially for large hospitals, where concern over security breaches is paramount, as well as the need for a fast and reliable Internet connection.
Cloud is certainly an option and there are now a number of healthcare organisations using cloud-based solutions to very good effect. Not only can a hospital reduce IT capital costs, as well as energy consumption, but fewer IT resources are also required to maintain and operate the IT infrastructure. And information stored across disparate information systems can be shared in real-time, freeing up IT staff to attend to more critical tasks in an efficient and cost-effective manner. New applications and services can be added quickly, reducing deployment time from months to minutes, and can be scaled up and down easily and instantly, based on demand.
Advocate Health Care opt for a private cloud
Advocate Health Care (AHC) is the largest healthcare system in Illinois. It offers the largest emergency and Level 1 trauma network in the state, and has more than 250 sites of care including 10 acute-care hospitals, and two children’s hospitals.
With over 37,000 people employed at AHC at the various facilities, a large, complex voice, data, and computing infrastructure exists. AHC soon realised that their existing solution lacked the scalability and standardised service delivery required in light of the increase in personal devices and consequent need for increased bandwidth. The organisation was in the situation where it had to refresh its hardware once a year because of the lack of scalability and latency issues. In such a large organisation that becomes very expensive. AHC started looking beyond proprietary protocols because they were keeping them from expanding beyond one geographical site and being able to deploy new technologies.
Its solution was to consolidate its data centres and create a private cloud to drive down costs.
AHC selected Alcatel-Lucent’s Application Fluent Network solution to consolidate its data centres, and now benefits from centralised management, virtualised IT functions, and lower costs from significantly reduced power consumption. Advocate Health Care is able to use all of its applications, from patient care and the whole administrative process involved with that care, such as email and unified communication through something called a virtual network profile (vNP) which provides an ‘application-aware’ network and the ability to manage applications as a service with automatic performance tuning.
The best of all clouds
A vNP also allows the switches to enforce defined application profiles to prioritise, establish quality of service, attach security parameters and provision the appropriate bandwidth levels and capacity for specific virtual machines and different applications. This means that their network is ready for public, private or hybrid cloud-based service.
Any shiny new CT scanner a healthcare organisation deploys immediately has the ability to share seamlessly and securely its images outside radiology and across the network. The network is integral to enabling effective communication and collaboration across the hospital, and the ability to upgrade and extend existing technology through the cloud could be a game-changer for healthcare providers.