Nicole Hill leads the Healthcare division at global networking and communications provider, ALE, and has a goal – to make everyone and everything connect. Connecting patients for a better hospital experience, connecting healthcare professionals to ensure continuity of care and access to patient data, and connecting healthcare facilities to harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT). Here she explains that healthcare is entering a second wave of digitisation which moves beyond electronic medical records (EMRs) with technology that touches every step of the patient journey. Now is the time to capitalise on these by creating a strategy for the digital transformation of healthcare providers.
Healthcare is going through its own digital transformation. New technology, such as wearables, telemedicine and IoT connectivity is making its way into hospitals, clinics and care homes. It is aimed at optimising care pathways to reduce average hospital stays and improve patient welfare. But without the right infrastructure in place to support new devices and applications working on the front-line of healthcare, the limitations of existing systems will hinder technology adoption and the weaknesses in security will be laid bare – as has been shown by recent attacks on the NHS in the U.K. and data breaches in the U.S.
Reach beyond hospital borders for better healthcare outcomes
Healthcare providers are not immune from the rise in patient expectations when it comes to technology. Patients now have access to a wide range of medical information online and are accustomed to digital services and connectivity. The challenge for many healthcare providers today is to meet these digital service expectations while using enhanced connectivity to promote better health outcomes.
The answer lies in using technology to develop an optimised care pathway – one that reaches right across the healthcare ecosystem for a continuum of care. This means connecting with patients outside hospital or clinic boundaries through fast-response contact centres, automated patient reminders to cut down missed appointments, video diagnoses and remote monitoring or health tracking.
Connecting staff and devices to the Internet of Healthcare Things
On-site, any care pathway must presume the default mode of connecting most devices on the network is going to be wireless. User devices such as workstations on wheels, tablets and smartphones, and clinical devices such as mobile image capture, infusion pumps and location tags all rely on being mobile and connected to the network.
Caregivers can’t be in two places at once, but with the right applications and tools, nurses can monitor wards and patient events 24/7. Simplified bedside voice and text communications or integrated notification and alarm systems can send information straight to caregivers’ workstations or mobile devices meaning round-the-clock care, at the desk or on the move.
Clinicians can access EMRs at the bedside or easily connect and collaborate with colleagues without having to return to their desks. Not only does this save caregivers valuable time, it also streamlines patient care by communicating crucial clinical information to team members, regardless of location.
Connecting departments and staff with enterprise-grade, mobile collaboration will be as important as reliable IoT connectivity and is central to properly supporting multidisciplinary healthcare and optimising staff time and workflows.
Keep IT simple
From a user perspective, IT needs to be intuitive or you risk alienating some of your patients and staff. This means simple but secure internet access on the front-end where the needs of patients and staff are met. But behind the scenes IT needs to be tightly controlled and delivered without a disruptive impact on critical network services – making sure authorised users can always access the resources they need.
With the right approach, access to networks and data can be based on set user profiles and predefined policies. The right people – and only the right people – can access and record information securely or use the applications and tools they need on their mobile or fixed devices. The IT department has the network visibility to see all the traffic and users, prioritise devices and applications, reserve or limit bandwidth or blacklist devices.
Network security is a priority – developments in containerisation
If it wasn’t before, it’s now very clear that hospitals and care providers are not exempt from the threat of cyberattacks, which can result in stolen data or disrupted operations – just think WannaCry!
Network security is an aspect healthcare providers are struggling with because the traditional approach to infrastructure design is to have separate network silos for different departments – such as bio-medical devices, security, patients and clinicians all on separate subsystems – and there is no overall view of ‘the network’. But this approach is no longer a realistic option.
Connected healthcare devices need to be secured, but expanding separate networks to support all these new devices will be a managerial and financial nightmare. Moving these onto a single IP-based network offers significant maintenance and management benefits, as long as it is deployed in a secure way. One of the core principles behind this is network segmentation – or IoT containerisation.
This is a method of creating virtual environments on a single network infrastructure where each virtual IoT ‘container’ can act as its own network, where users can only interact or manage devices within that virtual environment. For example, the security team’s ‘container’ might include the IP cameras and alarm systems and only be accessed and configured by authorised users from that team. As well as creating an optimised environment to run connected healthcare devices, any compromised device won’t spread the threat to other containers, limiting a breach in a worst-case scenario.
Giving healthcare a check-up
There is huge potential for improved connectivity to have a massive impact in healthcare, and help create positive outcomes for patients. Healthcare providers have the opportunity to put the right tools in the hands of caregivers and deploy a network infrastructure capable of supporting them. To build optimised care pathways and provide patients with an optimised healthcare journey requires an approach to digital transformation which provides mobility, connectivity and security every step of the way.