December 17, 2013

Healthcare Trends Impacting Your Network

I am often asked to speak on the topic of healthcare IT trends and the impact on those whose job it is to support them.  Faster WiFi, BYOD, Wireless Medical Devices are all on people’s minds but what I find the most interesting is speed and complexity.  Not speeds and feeds of a hospital network’s performance but the complexity of the healthcare organization’s workflow and the speed at which they continue to evolve.  Consumerization of IT has brought with it an expectation for a technology adoption schedule that matches consumer buying habits.

Last month in Dusseldorf Germany at the Medica Healthcare Trade Fair I had an opportunity to sit down with a group of colleagues and partners representing a number of different countries.  A surprising result of our conversations is that while the politics and business models of healthcare services differ greatly between countries, the trends impacting IT operations did not.  Here are some of the top trends we agreed upon.

 1.     Patient Safety

Everyone was in agreement that projects around increased patient safety are always a strong driver politically in an organization, and therefore tend to receive a significant amount of attention.  Network infrastructure, wireless networking, wired switches, etc. may not seem very glamorous or at the forefront of patient safety initiatives, but I would argue we provide the critical foundation for these solutions.  I jokingly tell people that if healthcare IT was a building, the network is the foundation.  Just look at the leaning tower of Pisa.  Plenty of attention was paid to the architecture; what is visible or touchable, but that foundation is critical.  Solutions such as real-time location services or mobile patient telemetry systems are increasingly leveraging the hospital WiFi network.

 2.     Patient Satisfaction

Improving a patient’s experience is always on most organization’s radar but the question becomes what can we do about it?  A top driver seen most is the expectation of delivering a high quality guest Wi-Fi experience.  In Europe, another means is with the pervasive use of patient bedside terminals for Internet access, television, and other entertainment options.  For a patient in a hospital streaming a movie is just as important as any business application running on the network.  Yes, the hospital is an ISP.  In the US, guest WiFi is one of the largest usage scenarios.  Many hospitals report that over 50% of associated devices on the WLAN are on the guest network.  Expect and prepare for a spike in usage after every holiday season.  What used to be a nice surprise has become an expectation.  Provide patients with a robust WiFi network that can support video streaming from Netflix or they will take it out on the clinicians, on your HCAHPS scores, and on social media.  In Europe many hospitals use patient bedside terminals for entertainment services.  Again, IP based streaming video services require a robust network.  The patients do not care that the network is balancing clinical operations usage with guests.  Its up to IT to balance the needs of both user groups and deliver acceptable results.

 3.     Clinician Satisfaction

BYOD is the one trend that is mostly a US challenge.  For US hospitals the trend is to use smartphone devices in clinical care and those devices may or may not be owned by hospital.  Our reality is that the iPhone or any smartphone for that matter is now a medical platform that happens to also make phone calls.  Clinicians assume 802.11 offers a guarantee for connectivity but the challenges for IT support are more complex than that.  Smartphones are not designed for optimized VoWiFi but for data offloading.  Managing expectations with the clinical community is critical for any mobile device program.

Another key driver in clinician satisfaction is how to improve workflow.  If you ever have followed clinicians around a hospital you can see that time spent logging into or out of applications and devices is a major source of frustration.  Mobile devices and virtualized desktop solutions are fast becoming the norm for clinical access to EMR systems.  Enhanced networking capabilities around virtualization support and expanded WLANs are the foundation for enabling these systems.

 4.     Increasing Revenue & Decreasing Costs

While business operations is focused, it still falls to support initiatives around cost savings or revenue generation.  Who hasn’t been asked to do more with less?  One way we have strived to help support these efforts at Extreme is with a robust management platform to reduce the amount of time and effort that has to be spent in management of the wired and wireless infrastructure.  The days of logging into individual devices for management need to end.  When IT can move beyond “keeping the lights on” it can begin to help the organization on strategic business initiatives.  Clinical patient care has changed significantly over the last decade.  IT’s support needs to evolve as well.

 5.     Government Requirements

Every country has regulations that for better or worse drive hospital behaviors.  HIPAA and Meaningful Use here in the US have been two of the biggest drivers for new technology adoption in healthcare.  Moving from paper based processes to electronic systems has brought significant investment in upgrading infrastructure.   Compliance around access controls, medical devices, and BYOD have brought renewed interested in capabilities around network access controls, policy management, and reporting capabilities.

 The most effective IT teams are the ones that spend time meeting with their clinical customers and understanding the needs and drivers of the organization.   According to Gartner:

 “The network has become an intrinsic and essential component of the IT infrastructure. Almost all enterprise applications and, thus, business processes are supported by the enterprise network.” Gartner Inc.,“Key Issues for Communications Enterprise Strategies,” Bjarne Munch and David A. Willis, 3 March 2011

 Its up to us to raise awareness on the criticality of the data networks used today in healthcare organizations.  Staying abreast of trends and leading the discussions on how to help organizations address them.

 Bob Zemke is the Healthcare Solutions Manager for Extreme Networks Please follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more thoughts on this and other similar topics.

About The Contributor:
Bob ZemkeDirector of Healthcare Solutions

Bob Zemke is the Director of Healthcare Solutions and is responsible for the healthcare market strategy at Extreme Networks. An IT professional with a broad span of experience in healthcare, Bob has over 14 years working both within hospital IT and as a consultant in next generation network design, deployment and management. Bob has been featured in publications such as HealthCare Design Magazine, Mobile Wireless Magazine, and Healthcare Executive Exchange. He is coauthor of a book entitled "WiFi Enabled Healthcare" that is available on Amazon.com. Bob frequently participates industry-specific events including HIMSS, Enterprise Connect, Interop and is active in the AAMI, CWNP, IEEE, and HIMSS organizations . Bob holds an BA degree in Telecommunications Management from Western Michigan University and his MS in Telecommunications and Network Management from Syracuse University's iSchool.

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