New technologies are rapidly transforming how healthcare organizations operate and deliver care. From electronic health records (EHR) and telemedicine to the growing Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), healthcare organizations are embarking on new digital transformation initiatives with the goal of revolutionizing medicine as we know it. But to support these cutting-edge services, healthcare organizations are increasingly adopting new technologies like cloud services, SD-WAN, and more. In fact, the global adoption of cloud services in healthcare is expected to hit $44.93 billion by 2023, according to MarketsandMarkets, while the IoMT market is projected to be worth more than 158 billion by 2022. These are just a few examples that illustrate the level of focus and investment healthcare organizations are making.
This evolution has made complex, hybrid networks the norm. However, when it comes to deploying, managing, and troubleshooting them, healthcare organizations are facing a new set of performance visibility challenges – and some exceedingly high stakes. The health of the network itself is not only critical for business operations, but it’s now playing an increasingly important role in the level of patient care.
Let’s explore several of the top technology initiatives taking place in the healthcare industry today, the challenges they create for network performance management (i.e., visibility), and how network operations (NetOps) teams can manage them more effectively:
TELEMEDICINE: With the promise of delivering faster, better, less expensive, and more convenient care, telemedicine is a major trend in the healthcare industry. In fact, 51 percent of healthcare executives claim that telemedicine was a high or top strategic priority in 2017, according to REACH Health. But as virtual doctor visits, remote patient monitoring, and other telehealth services become more popular, many providers are struggling with deployments. Telemedicine’s reliance on the network is immense, especially as providers look to transition away from legacy hardware to increase flexibility and affordability, seek enterprise-wide software platforms for scalability, try to deliver richer applications to facilitate better doctor/patient experiences, look to support EHR integrations for provider inclusiveness, and more.
As a result, healthcare IT departments are increasingly adopting cloud services to support both data storage and application delivery. They're also launching SD-WAN technology to increase the flexibility and reliability of data delivery while reducing costs. And they're using various virtualized solutions to scale healthcare services more rapidly and drive down data center CapEx.
But without granular visibility into each network domain, healthcare NetOps teams are unable to proactively identify, resolve, and prevent critical performance issues that can negatively impact patient experiences and care.
Medical IoT Devices: Both IoT and IoMT are having a huge impact on healthcare organizations and hospitals, as the technology becomes more widely adopted as a way to improve patient experiences and reduce costs. Whether embedded into medical equipment, deployed in the form of patient wearables, or connected to an ecosystem of sensors designed to capture, measure and identify key patient data (such as remote patient monitoring or chronic disease management through telemedicine), smart healthcare facilities and services are the future, but they’re being rolled out on today’s networks.
Monitoring these smart medical devices and the impact they have on the core network and at edge locations can be a real challenge. Since lapses in connectivity or quality of service can impact patient experiences or worse – have potentially life-threatening repercussions – IoT device management is crucial for healthcare NetOps teams. That's why they must ensure these devices can properly connect, access systems, and process data quickly, and be equipped with the network visibility needed to examine latency levels, transport paths, application or network responsiveness, and more. Additionally, because waves of new IoMT devices generate increased traffic and data, a healthcare organization must be able to monitor and optimize network performance and data flows.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs): EHRs allow organizations to exchange information electronically and provide a higher quality of care for patients. This includes more accurate and up-to-date patient information, better security for and access to records, more reliable care, and complete documentation, and a variety of other improvements around productivity, reliability, and efficiency, all while reducing costs. According to Gartner’s 2018 CIO Survey, EHRs are the single-most important factor with which healthcare organizations can differentiate and win. However, these systems can be incredibly complex, relying on a variety of technologies to function properly, and they need to integrate with and provide access to other healthcare systems, providers, and insurers. The network plays an important role in delivering the storage, compute, and transport functions, along with the NetOps team monitoring critical applications for the organizations.
Part of the promise of EHR is the ability to efficiently access and share patient information. When healthcare organizations inevitably encounter performance issues that hamper those benefits, fingers start pointing. But patients waiting for test results or a diagnosis don’t care about the root cause of an IT issue; they just want quality, timely care. That's why NetOps teams at healthcare institutions need comprehensive visibility into network and application performance. Without these insights, they're unable to isolate if the problem originates on the network itself, an application, partner network, or a service provider. When it comes to EHR performance issues, any delay in MTTR will likely diminish the quality of patient care and experiences.
Managing the Health of Your Evolving Network
One thing is for sure: the healthcare industry will continue to contribute to the rapidly growing worldwide digital transformation movement heavily. Whether you're launching telemedicine, MIoT, EHR, or any other new service, the cloud, SD-WAN, 5G, and other technologies that support them will require comprehensive visibility across increasingly complex, multi-vendor, multi-domain, multi-cloud healthcare networks. Despite how complex these new technologies and network topologies are becoming, you must be able to monitor critical wired and wireless infrastructure to ensure that key applications perform as intended, troubleshoot problems fast, streamline capacity planning and optimize resource allocation, detect anomalous performance indicators early, and so much more.
At the end of the day, if you can’t see how a new service or piece of technology impacts the network, you can’t monitor it, manage it, optimize it or fix it when something breaks. Some advanced network performance management and diagnostic solutions allow network operators to see into the darkest corners of the network when and where it matters most. Again, the health of the network can have a direct impact on patient care, so make sure you’re able to visualize all aspects of your hybrid healthcare network and the critical services that depend on it, in order to preserve network performance, proactively identify issues and troubleshoot problems before they can impact patient experiences or outcomes.