As with every other business these days, reliable connectivity is a critical part of modern medical facilities. If a network fails, operations at an entire facility can screech to a standstill — which, in the best-case scenario, is a major inconvenience and, in the worst, impacts patients’ health and well-being.
But reliability is just one component of a health care-ready network — accessibility, security, ease of management and bandwidth also are critical features for health care organizations, as illustrated by these three trends:
1. Hospitals aim to create better patient experiences: Many hospitals now focus on boosting the customer (i.e., patient) experience, and connectivity plays a part in that through guest networks.
Rarely are patients in waiting rooms interested in browsing old magazines or watching the news or a game show on the television. With everyone carrying their own minicomputer — a smartphone — in their pockets these days, people can select their own forms of entertainment by connecting to a free guest wireless network as they wait to be seen by a provider.
A strong cellular signal can be inconsistent across large facilities or hospitals, making it important to be able to create (and manage) free networks for guests. Ideally, this network is separate from the one the staff uses, to ensure security for the more mission-critical network — which brings us to the next trend:
2. Data security remains nonnegotiable: While network security is a concern in every industry, in health care, it’s paramount. Sensitive medical information is at stake. This means health care facilities must ensure that hackers can’t get in — yet many organizations wait until it’s too late to take steps to protect their networks from bad actors; a Grand Haven-based health system was just one of many victims of malicious attacks last year.
Horror stories like this mean many facilities are doubling down on proactive security measures, spurring interest in technologies like software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN). With SD-WAN, health care organizations can virtualize security features, like firewalls and unified threat management solutions (UTM).
Not only does SD-WAN boost security, but it also makes it easy for IT staff to manage and monitor network health in-house — even remotely, saving IT staff on travel time — via a single dashboard that is capable of providing a holistic view across an entire health care system. This allows IT to react to any issues or threats quickly; plus, SD-WAN allows automatic failovers to redundant connections, which means IT can address any outages without downtime for users.
IT also can set specific rules about network traffic — prioritizing certain users and applications like electronic health record (EHR) apps and virtual desktop infrastructure — which, in addition to boosting network security, speeds up workflows and creates organizational efficiencies.
This proactive security approach is key to protecting patient data — and while it can be expensive to implement the right measures, it’s often more expensive to recover from these attacks after the fact, especially in the case of ransomware attacks that hold patient data hostage. In another grim scenario, a Michigan hospital was forced to close after it refused to pay the ransom and the hackers wiped all patient records.
3. Telemedicine’s popularity grows: Patients sometimes go without health care because they lack transportation or there are no providers in their area. Telemedicine eliminates these barriers, giving patients more equitable access to medical professionals. It also is especially useful in the field of behavioral health care; studies show talk therapy can be just as effective via camera or phone as it is face to face, making therapy a great proving ground for the benefits of telemedicine.
Seeing a doctor via telemedicine on-demand provides the ultimate in convenience for patients, but — especially for video/VoIP calls — high-bandwidth network connectivity is critical to ensure patients have a seamless interaction with their care provider.
These key trends indicate a health care organization’s networks must be more than “just” fast and reliable; they also must offer comprehensive security, guest accessibility, and be easy to monitor and manage. Organizations that implement infrastructure with these traits will provide an excellent experience for patients, providers and staff alike — a healthy goal to strive toward.