Network Modernization: The Key to the Future of Healthcare

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By: Jacob Chacko, Regional Director – Middle East, Saudi & South Africa at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

There’s no denying that Covid-19 had an irreversible impact across every industry, perhaps most notably the healthcare sector. Two years ago, healthcare providers and facilities had to make huge changes in order to adjust to the influx of Covid patients. Many of these changes involved digitization, as between the initial uncertainty of Covid transmission and on-and-off lockdowns, digital services went from optional to mandatory overnight.

From telemedicine to patient portals, new technologies are still being deployed today to help the system fight back against the backlog of patients needing care, as well as deliver the improved and more seamless service that customers now expect. This has meant that IoT device explosion is on the rise across the healthcare sector. In fact, Deloitte predicts that the IoMT market will grow in Europe from $12billion to $44billion by 2025.  

As healthcare organizations continue to introduce IoT devices to their operations, their digital success stories depend on one fundamental component – a reliable network. Resilient and secure connectivity must underpin every institution’s digital roadmap, upholding and progressing the convergence of IT, patient care and operational efficiencies. So, just how do they achieve this? 

Step 1: Upgrading the network 

Many legacy networks that IT teams in the healthcare sector are pushed to work with were designed during a pre-Covid time where applications were static. These outdated networks not only create their own roadblocks, but trying to adapt them to support today’s demands can also result in huge operational issues. An IT team tasked with scaling their network up to support a surge in users and devices across various locations would be faced with having to manually process every connection type and device if a network hasn’t been modernized. 

Fast forward to 2022 and the aforementioned shift towards personalized healthcare and increased dependence on mobile devices and applications means that this type of process is simply no longer sustainable. In order to support the surge of IoT devices, and unlock the opportunities they bring around autonomous, predictive and analytical capabilities – healthcare organizations must firstly upgrade and modernize their networks. 

Here, organizations should consider opting for a cloud-centric network architecture solution, as whether it is consumed in the cloud or on-premises, this will provide organizations with much needed agility for future scale and connectivity. 

On top of this, networks based on traditional VLAN architectures will struggle to accommodate huge amounts of IoT devices, so modernizing WAN solutions with SD-WAN should be seen as the next step for healthcare organizations. Offering greater efficiency and cost savings, hospitals and clinics can also opt for an approach that doesn’t involve the wholesale replacement of their current infrastructures, but rather look for options that coexist with current architectures. Here, healthcare organizations can introduce network overlays such as EVPN/VXLAN alongside existing infrastructure to learn how to adapt these protocols to current and future environments. 

Step 2: Leveraging automation 

With a modern network in place and now set up for scale and connectivity, health organizations must then look towards leveraging the benefits of automation. 

As all these IoT devices churn out large quantities of health information, automation merged with other smart technologies such as machine learning can help turn into actionable insights that healthcare organizations can use to build new solutions.

Here, simplified workflows can also help alleviate administrative burdens and redeploy precious time so that staff can focus on patient care. From apps that help patients manage their care themselves, to online symptom checkers and e-triage AI tools, virtual agents that can carry out tasks in hospitals, or a bionic pancreas to help patients with diabetes, adding AI to your technology arsenal can greatly enhance patient care. Of these AI applications, some help improve healthcare operations by optimizing scheduling or bed management, others aid population health by predicting the risk of hospital admission or helping detect specific cancers early enabling intervention that can lead to better survival rates; and others even help optimize healthcare R&D and pharmacovigilance. All of this can go a long way to help hospitals make better use of their resources in an age where they’re more stretched than ever. But it takes a strong and secure network to support this. 

Step 3: Security 

While a modern network and the IoT devices and AI solutions it can support have the potential to transform healthcare in practice, the growing use of connective devices also poses increased risk for healthcare organizations. In a hospital setting where staff, patients and visitors are always on the go, multiple new devices are constantly joining and leaving the network. Now, securing the network is more important than ever. 

The key to a secure network is visibility. This means that everything, from sensors to visitors phones, needs to be individually identified, secured and monitored. By ‘fingerprinting’ every device this way, any vulnerability can be spotted and addressed immediately before it is exploited. This level of nuance is also particularly vital in healthcare. In life-or-death environments critical-care devices that need to run continuously can’t be treated the same way as those which can be disconnected if needed. Instead, Zero Trust architectures ensure that all devices and users trying to access the network are identified and authenticated, before providing the least amount of access required through a predefined security policy.  

Conclusion

The digital transformation of our healthcare system is being driven by the benefits of a truly IoT-device connected environment. However, in order to unlock the promises of this future, it is fundamental that organizations have a network in place to support this. By deploying a modern and secure network and leveraging automation, healthcare organizations can drive operational efficiencies, redeploy employee time and ultimately enhance patient care.