In Healthcare, Are Your Network and Staff Strong Enough Assets?


As society emerges from one of the most transformative events in recent history, the healthcare industry has been forced to adjust to a new normal that includes severe staff shortages, cybersecurity threats, budgetary challenges and the cost of modernizing technology.

This reality was the main finding of research conducted by HIMSS Market Insights, which conducted a survey with IT stakeholders in late 2022 into 2023, called IT Strategies: Emerging From the COVID Pandemic.

Overall, the research determined that IT professionals and executives are continuing to digitally transform their infrastructure, but face ongoing challenges.

Staffing remains the ultimate challenge

“Hospitals and health systems have finite budgets. They are struggling to keep doctors and nurses on board,” said Doug McDonald, Director of Extreme Alliances in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at Extreme Networks.

"They are fighting to find and keep the right people on their IT teams. As healthcare organizations think about how to improve patient outcomes and the overall experience for users of their IT systems, they must ensure they are making smart investments.

If you don’t have a strong, agile infrastructure that can support these next-generation applications – and that can do so in a secure manner – you are ultimately setting yourself up for failure. That infrastructure is truly a strategic asset that will help today’s organizations overcome the many challenges they face.”

Respondents to the survey indicated that their biggest organizational challenge was maintaining clinical staffing levels, with almost a third saying this. Cybersecurity threats came next at 23% of respondents, financial issues followed with 19% of respondents, and 10% of respondents said providing modern patient care due to the cost of technological advancement was difficult. According to research prepared by the Ponemon Institute and outlined in an Extreme Networks White Paper you can download here, only 30% of companies believe they are effectively keeping up with a changing threat landscape.

The importance of modernizing the network

One topic upon which the vast majority of respondents agreed was that the network is considered a strategic asset that is essential to the success of the hospital’s operations. Ninety-three per cent of respondents agreed with this statement. This finding demonstrates an acute awareness of the importance of modernizing and investing in a network that is resilient, able to withstand cyberattacks, safeguard patient data, uphold operations during an ongoing influx of devices, and provide the most modernized healthcare to patients. Building on this finding, the survey also determined that 59% of respondents ranked technology modernization and digital transformation as a top three priority in 2023.

These competing demands pose constant trials for a healthcare network, an industry executive said. “It’s very rare to find a solution that drives automation, minimizes security risk and reduces costs without sacrificing one of those options for another,” said Collin Summers, Director of Network Services at OSF Healthcare in Illinois. However, this also represents an opportunity for organizations, especially smaller, non-profit outfits, to implement automation and machine learning to bridge any deficits. With these additions, a network can indeed become a strategic asset.

Consider your network is a strategic asset

“A lot of organizations focus on new applications, cybersecurity efforts or the patient experience and lose sight that their network infrastructure is the core that makes all of those applications succeed,” said McDonald of Extreme Networks. “If your network architecture isn’t up to speed, it doesn’t matter what else you invest in; those different systems won’t function as they should, and there will be a major problem.”

If you don't protect your network, lives could be at stake, experts say. 

It doesn't have to be that way if you regard your network as a strategic asset. 

Of course, a dependable and resilient network infrastructure is nothing without staff to oversee operations. And respondents continue to decry a lack of clinical staff, a reality that existed prior to the pandemic but that has only been exacerbated. Organizations with between 2,500 and 14,999 employees report that maintaining staff at appropriate levels is their biggest challenge. Cybersecurity threats are the other main difficulty facing healthcare networks.

“IT is the lifeblood and centralized nervous system that part of the organization. A lot of organization spend a lot of investment in applications, and sometimes the IT infrastructure may be overlooked. When you look at the utility like water, you think the same about the network,” said Summers at a HIMSS 2023.


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Kate Chappell

Kate is an award-winning journalist and communications specialist with over two decades of experience.

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