Beyond 100% Uptime: The Need For Resilient Healthcare Networks


If a healthcare network consists of a tangle of wires and switches tucked away in a dusty closet and a dated redundancy plan waiting to jump into action, clients and patients are at risk. In the healthcare industry, the network is not only a strategic asset, but a matter of life and death. If a healthcare network is not resilient, automated, and operating with improved efficiency, then patients, their data, and the company are exposed to several different threats.

Imagine this: a family member lies in a hospital bed and the healthcare network crashes. “I like to think of it like this: do you want that network to work 100% of the time,” says Rob Hale, Senior Manager of Technical Engineering, Novant Health. “And in health care, I know it’s tough, but it’s sometimes a little more than 100% is what they are looking for.” Extreme Networks recently hosted a webinar, Diagnosing the Keys to IT Security, Efficiency, and Simplicity for Healthcare where Hale and other IT professionals from Extreme and OSF HealthCare discussed the important role networking plays in delivering patient care.

100% Uptime is Necessary

A network that functions even 99% of the time is insufficient, and additional pressures have raised the stakes. Demands on a network have never been heavier. An unprecedented influx of devices, staffing shortages, cumbersome regulations, the growth of telehealth, heavier demands on healthcare professionals from an aging population, restrictive budgets, and the ongoing threat to data security, all factor in. An unreliable network can even be a matter of life or death in the healthcare industry.  Resiliency is essential “It used to be, if you keep the hospital up, you’re probably ok, and now that you’ve got to keep every single building up, every clinic, the Internet has got to stay up, and so you really have to have resiliency through that whole thing,” said Colin Summers, Director of Network Services, OSF HealthCare. “I think trying to do that, using the automation that we’re doing through Extreme helps a lot with that, because going back to the up time and operational efficiency, the resiliency helps the up time, and the operational efficiency is, you just plug into wherever you need to plug it into, and you don’t call us anymore. It should be that in an emergency, you can plug any device into any location without having to call IT.”

Team Effort 

To weave this resiliency throughout a network means involving more than just IT professionals. An entire team must be pulled in to incorporate all aspects of operations, including the clinical side of things. It also involves a nimble team that can adapt on a minute-by-minute basis. Team effort  “All of us, in changing out the engine to an airplane while it’s inflight,” are essential, Doug McDonald, Director of Technology, Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, explains of his experience in operating a healthcare network on a 24/7 basis. “We were doing 12 changes a week that were after-hours changes. Overall, how do you manage that? You get in front of this with the business, and you get your clinical engineering folks, and you get your application folks and get all your people together, so when you do make these inevitable changes, you have everyone’s ability to test right then and there.” Resiliency must also protect against cyberattacks, which according to executives, are among the biggest threat to networks.

Cyberattacks Are Widespread

Data from Extreme Networks show that cyberattacks affected 82% of healthcare workers, while ransomware racked up $21 billion in losses at hospitals last year alone. “Across the globe, number one on the list is cybersecurity. During a ransomware attack, systems are down, and if we cannot provide clinicians with the data they need, that’s the worst-case scenario. It could be a matter of life and death, not having systems available,” said Hale of Novant Health, a four-state integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient centers, and hospitals. With the help of Extreme Network’s fabric technology, Novant currently onboards 20 to 25 applications per week. The fabric connect solution allows Novant to build a virtualized network that automates manual processes and allows the company to operate with increased speed and flexibility in relation to executing network segmentation with centralized firewall failover, as an example. The company currently processes 62.8 petabytes of data, has 8,800 access points, and runs close to three million session initiation protocol calls on its network.

Single Operating System

Another company, OSF Healthcare also incorporated fabric connect, making the change from its traditional circuit-switched telephone network to the same switch operating everywhere and a single operating system. It now has 15 hospitals and 140 locations across Illinois. “We can’t compromise patient data or the integrity of our network because of all the attacks that are continuously going on,” said Summer of OSF. “As things come through the network, we can isolate what needs to be isolated. So, you can walk into any OSF facility, deploy that device, and know it’s secure. We can manage and control it.” Your network is no longer an isolated piece of the puzzle, it is now part of your strategy and an essential part of your defense against cyberattacks and a way to mitigate against what could be astronomical costs.

About the Author
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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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