Allan Paton, regional director for the UKI at Silver Peak, discusses how business-driven networks are facilitating the digitalisation of healthcare.
The healthcare industry has oftentimes been synonymous with the slow uptake of new technologies. However, now this famously cumbersome sector is undergoing a profound digital transformation. Like many industries today, healthcare services are becoming increasingly data driven in a change that is only accelerating. In the face of this rapid evolution, industry leaders need to look to their wide area network to fully undergo this transformation effectively.
Healthcare in transformation
The evolution in healthcare is being spurred by concurrent developments in data, mobile and cloud technologies that are driving healthcare providers to shift from a provider-centric to a patient-centric business model. Patient expectations are now soaring and the healthcare sector is being held to the standard of the service industries to meet user expectations – patients want an on-demand, modern healthcare service that accommodates their busy schedules. Rising user expectations of the healthcare industry are happening in conjunction with increasing pressure on organisations to create greater value and lower cost by improving financial viability, while complying with an intense regulatory environment.
Furthermore, the healthcare market is highly competitive, prone to disruption from creative newcomers, in which mergers, acquisitions and partnerships are vital to stay afloat. In this time of flux and demand, it is pivotal for healthcare providers to embrace digital transformation in the form of telemedicine, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing and Internet of Things (IoT), in order to keep up. However, to use these investments in healthcare technologies effectively, an organisation’s wide area network must be able to support them.
Burgeoning network demands
To embrace digital transformation, it is important to know whether an organisation’s wide area network acts as a strategic enabler or as a constraint. In the context of the medical field, a network needs to connect “things” – such as medical devices) – applications, clinics, providers and patients together. This digitisation of the healthcare sector translates into burgeoning network demand. Effective networking infrastructure is especially important for healthcare, where the smooth running of applications ensures uses such as the real-time transmission of patient’s vitals for doctors aiding first-responders in the field. Alongside literal life and death scenarios, an optimal wide area network ensures the moving of medical records and medical imaging across clinics, enabling clear voice to video calls between patients and doctors.
In the face of this huge increase in network demand, more traditional infrastructure solutions are falling short, and this is especially true for conventional router-centric wide area networks. These aged networking solutions have a high connectivity cost while only providing limited bandwidth – bandwidth that simply cannot keep up with the huge amounts of data being produced by a transforming healthcare sector. Furthermore, router-based solutions provide little flexibility and their lack of automation makes deployment to new care centres a costly process through which the valuable time of IT teams is sunk. Using router-centric networking solutions to support crucial innovation solutions such as cloud is similar to expecting a landline device to support the capabilities of a smartphone – the infrastructure has simply been outpaced by the technology.
Basic software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions are a step-in the right direction, however like their router-based predecessors, they do not provide adequate security, especially given the stringent regulatory nature of data protection in the healthcare industry. To enable healthcare transformation, a networking solution must be provided that is as innovative and dynamic as the technology it must support – and this comes in the form of a business-driven wide area network.
The network as an enabler
With the vast and increasing demands on their networking infrastructure, healthcare organisations are now turning to a business-driven SD-WAN approach, where the network becomes an enabler to the organisation, rather than a constraint. Essentially, a business-driven SD-WAN approach is a wide area networking platform in which organisational intent defines how applications should be delivered to end users and can include performance, priority, security, resiliency, and routing commands that should be applied differently, depending on the application. Put simply, healthcare IT teams can tell the network what it wants it to do – such as prioritise all video calls – and the advanced SD-WAN platform will deploy, deliver and enforce it no matter where the organisation’s clinics, hospitals and offices are located.
In the context of healthcare, this means that a business-driven SD-WAN can be automated to ensure continuous access and availability of critical applications in anticipation of network problems whenever they should arise. Through automating manual operations through a centralised orchestration, SD-WAN also allows for fast deployments to new care centres, saving vital time and money for organisations. Not only this, but security is guaranteed, and IT has complete observability of the entire network from a single-pane-of-glass to maintain a continuous delivery of healthcare services while lowering IT overhead and costs.
With the power of deep analytics, healthcare companies have complete observability and control of the network. Indeed, centralised orchestration provides a real-time view on the health of the network, meaning organisations can quickly add new sites or deploy new applications while minimising errors and enabling faster troubleshoots. As such, network congestion and outage issues can be addressed, while the healthcare company continues operating as normal, with no disruption to the crucial services they provide. It’s also important to have this control to be able to streamline connectivity across sites. Healthcare companies often have hundreds of applications – both on-premise and in the cloud – all of which need to be treated differently. For example, it is important that the network automatically separates the clinical from non-clinical services to maintain the highest quality of experience for users.
Infrastructure keeping pace with applications
The modern transformation that is being spearheaded across the healthcare industry through innovative technology and a patient-centric approach is being driven through networking infrastructure. However, where network solutions are dated, new technologies are being stymied, fast deployments are impossible, and organisations are ultimately losing money. Fortunately, infrastructural innovation has met that of the applications that rely upon it and it is now up to healthcare leaders to make use of both to carry this industry-wide transformation to its fruition.