Connecting the Smart Hospital: Q&A with Healthcare Solutions Architect, Chuck Brooks

Lauren Farah Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 5 Oct 2020

New technologies are constantly emerging and changing business initiatives across all industries, and healthcare is no exception. In fact, 90% of healthcare organizations see investments in tools and technologies as a requirement to transform healthcare.

We’ve entered an age where there’s smart everything: smart homes, smart cities, and of course, the smart hospital! But what does it mean, exactly? To help answer that question, I sat down with healthcare IT industry expert, Chuck Brooks. Here is a glimpse of our Q&A:

Question 1: What is your background in IT engineering and the healthcare space?

For the past 15 years, I’ve been working in the IT/IT application space. For several years, I was focused on doing VoIP projects with a manufacturer, and then running an integration and interoperability lab for VoIP products. During that time, hospitals and healthcare organizations always seemed to do the most rigorous testing and compliance projects. Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working at Extreme Networks for the past 8 years, working with manufacturers to ensure interoperability and certification of our gear with their products, specifically as it applies to healthcare organizations.

Question 2You are designing the healthcare demo in the vertical showcase at Extreme Connect. Why should customers make it a point to stop by the booth? What are we featuring?

New to Extreme Connect this year is the vertical demo showcase proving a central location for the various industries to network with peers, experts, and see demos specific to their environment.

Extreme has a large portfolio of products. After all, we’re among the top three enterprise network equipment vendors worldwide. Being able to talk to IT professionals who work in healthcare, as opposed to other industries, really allows you to gain greater insights—not only into Extreme’s different product lines but also other customers’ successes and challenges that you can relate to and learn from.

Connecting Your Smart Hospital is the theme of the healthcare booth. We want to highlight products that address many of the opportunities and challenges healthcare organizations are facing today as a result of digital transformation. This includes:

    • Extreme Defender for IoT, which can, in real time, protect devices from a cyberattack or becoming infected by blocking communication from devices outside its list of known clients and communication ports.
    • In healthcare, fabric is a major differentiator when it comes to building out the core of a network. Imagine being able to plug in a device, and it’s immediately identified and segmented into the appropriate ISID/VLAN. Extreme Fabric Connect does just that. It takes the complexity out of networking.

I love hearing our customers’ stories about Fabric Connect and the amount of time it’s saved their IT staff. It really allows them to focus on the future rather than being reactive and fighting daily fires, which is an incredible testament to technology!

    • Then there’s Extreme Analytics, which gives IT staff the ability to see what’s happening on the network and monitor specific applications in real time. It also allows end users to generate unique signatures to create their own mechanisms for analyzing applications. Plus, we enhanced Extreme Analytics to provide the location of a destination IP quickly.  Now, for example, I can see from the application flows that traffic is going to Russia or China and investigate why.

We will also be showcasing many innovative devices that hospitals are connecting to their networks, including a Remedi Technology patient entertainment system, Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality experience, Draeger Telemetry, Vocera Smartbadge, smart telepresence robot, and more.

Connecting Your Smart Hospital

  • The IoT healthcare market will reach $136.8 billion worldwide by 2021 (Allied Market Research).
  • Today, there are 3.7 million medical devices in use that are connected to and monitor various parts of the body to inform healthcare decisions.

Blog: Smart Network = Smart Hospital = Smart Healthcare

IoT has upended the traditional hospital network. It’s time to become a connected, smart hospital, and to do so, healthcare organizations would do well to take steps to center the wireless network on its ultimate beneficiaries: clinicians, patients, and visitors. This process can be accelerated by adding automation to the healthcare industry. Operating as a connected, smart hospital and keeping pace with changes in technology as best as is possible in healthcare calls for simplicity in networking.

The Rise of Innovation in Healthcare

  • 90% of healthcare organizations agree that investments in new tools and technology are required to transform healthcare.
  • 73% of hospitals say that analytics and data management will drive innovation in healthcare, while 66% report AI and machine learning will play a key role.
  • 23% of hospitals consider operational innovations a priority, while 26% say that improving the patient experience through innovations is a priority (HIMSS).

Cutting-edge technologies are changing the way healthcare functions. Whether these new technologies enable better patient experience through in-room Wi-Fi or provide healthcare personnel with crucial information through patient monitors, health IT is evolving rapidly. Consumer-grade guest devices, medical devices, entertainment systems and an infinite array of IoT devices share a single infrastructure. Thus, it’s critical that hospital infrastructures can support all of the new healthcare technology, as well as the devices employees, patients, and guests use on the network.

Question 3We’ve seen some really amazing innovations positively impacting the patient, staff, and clinician experience in healthcare. What is required to optimize these devices from a network and infrastructure standpoint?

The ability to automate onboarding on a network is critical for anyone or anything in a hospital. Whether we’re talking about family visiting a loved one, patients who are hospitalized, clinicians working on a day-to-day basis, personal electronic devices, or medical devices, the network absolutely must work, and provide safe and secure connectivity to the applications that are needed. Connectivity in the hospital, whether wired or wireless, needs to be available at all times. Hospital environments don’t have regular business hours; they’re open 24/7, so the network must also be available 24/7.

The ability to deliver a consistent user experience across all devices is critical in the hospital environment. Do clinicians care that they’re “roaming” between floors and that’s why the patient telemetry device isn’t working in the elevator? Absolutely not! They just care that patient critical devices work, when and how they’re supposed to, no matter what.

In addition, hospitals are graded by their patients, so satisfaction scores are extremely important. If a patient or family member can’t connect to the internet to get an email, Instagram, Netflix, etc., then the hospital will likely get poor HCAHPS scores, which can significantly hurt hospital funding.

The Autonomous Network is the Key to Enabling the Connected Hospital

Healthcare facilities need to find a way to better prepare themselves to be there for patients and clinicians while making room to safely adopt new technology. These outcomes add up to an autonomous network, the key enabler of the intelligent hospital.

In the healthcare space, an Autonomous Network can alleviate much of the network complexity that comes with managing thousands of users and IoT. The pursuit of becoming a true smart hospital becomes feasible and attainable. Just a few possible use cases:

  1. Connecting a life flight to the doctors on the helipad
  2. Monitoring IV pumps keeping a patient alive
  3. Metering pill distribution
  4. Tracking volumetrics

Question 4: Patient, staff, and data security is always top of mind in healthcare. How can organizations ensure network and patient security?

It’s a fact: healthcare records and information are more valuable than your typical credit card theft. That’s why attackers target hospitals and healthcare providers in order to steal this information. Unlike a typical business with security at entrances, anyone can walk in off the street and gain physical access to the network. That’s why it’s so important to be able to secure both the wired and wireless networks within a hospital.

By utilizing Extreme fabric technology, we can allow wired and wireless network ports to be placed into a hypersegmented environment to ensure that only devices that are meant to be on the network have access—or that they only receive communication from permitted devices. If a device changes its behavior, we can block it so that it doesn’t infect other devices on the network.

Question 5: Recently, we’ve seen the FDA give mandates with regards to the cybersecurity of medical devices. Things like infusion pumps, glucometers, patient monitors have all been targeted by hackers. Why? 

It was only five to seven years ago that security started to become a major issue for medical device vendors. It’s common to see devices used in hospitals that are 10-15 years old.  I’ve also seen a brand new device that was using Windows 98 as the base OS. Granted, it might’ve been locked down to some degree, but Windows 98 went to end-of-support in 2006. How many people trust something that hasn’t been patched for 13 years?  Do you want someone keying in drug doses into a machine running an outdated, end of life operating system? 

Recent Breaches in Healthcare Demonstrate Risks of Insecure Networks & Devices

  • Atrium Health: 2.6 million records – December, 2018
  • UnityPoint Health: 1.4 million records – July, 2018
  • Augusta University Health: 417k records – August, 2018

The risks of an insecure network and connected medical devices aren’t just about stolen medical records or damage to organizational reputation. It’s about people’s lives. Network automation removes the risks of human error and allows your network team to find threats faster. Fabric in the healthcare environment, such as Fabric Connect, is also key: it delivers a simplified, agile and resilient infrastructure that makes network configuration and deployment of new services faster and easier.

Blog: How the Right Network Design Can Prevent a Catastrophic “Headline-Making” Security Attack

Question 6: Based on your experience in the industry, what are the keys to success in healthcare? How has this changed in recent years?

Security and ease of use are no longer simply nice to have in healthcare. They’re a must-have to play in the network infrastructure market.

Hospital staff are stretched extremely thin with regards to time. Nurses certainly don’t have the time to help a patient get on the internet with so many other patients they need to cater to. Doctors don’t want to try to figure out why they can’t connect to the EMR system, or why they have to wait multiple seconds for pages to come up on the screen. Even hospitals that are nonprofit are trying to improve efficiency in the workplace. 

Technology has to make things better, faster, easier and more secure – not more time consuming and complicated.

Question 7: How do you envision the future of healthcare?

I think we’re at the edge of a technological revolution. At HIMSS this year, in the Intelligent Health Pavilion (IHP), we had the DaVinci robot that’s transforming surgery and the field of minimally invasive surgery solutions to reduce variability and deliver better results. Right now, the robot requires a person operating it in the room, but I envision this making remote procedures possible from world-renowned doctors in a different state, or even country. Doctors today are using amazing technology like Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens for teaching and telemedicine. This will become the future of medicine as demand keeps rising.

Just a quick walk around the booths at HIMSS made it obvious that AI/ML and big data are top-of-mind for many healthcare technology vendors. IBM had a huge booth section showcasing Watson Health, a cognitive healthcare solution powered by AI. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all had a large presence showing off their cloud capabilities. Big data in healthcare will definitely become the new way to decide treatment options for patients based on the thousands of data points that computers can crunch.

Blog Post: Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal: AI is Here (But It’s Not Taking Over)

Question 8: Where do you think the future of healthcare IT and network infrastructure is headed?

Four words: simple, fast, reliable and secure!

IT departments don’t have weeks or months to deploy new services and applications, so it has to be easy. Fast is all about the pipe speed. Doctors don’t care where an app resides, they care that it’s responsive. Patients want fast internet so they can Facetime, use social media, email, or stream videos. When ransomware hit the UK, they had to go back to paper logging, and most of the clinicians weren’t even familiar with that method. Today, secure means that data absolutely has to be segmented and encrypted!

Be sure to stop by the healthcare booth at Extreme Connect to help us give back!

Visit the healthcare demo station during the conference to take a quick customer survey. For every respondent, Extreme Networks will donate $5 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80%

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