The decision to move to the cloud has been debated for years in the healthcare industry. It’s now no longer a question of, “Should we move to the cloud?” Today, the focus is on when and how to move to virtualization.
A survey by TriCore Solutions found that 49 percent of healthcare organizations are using private clouds, 32 percent use a hybrid IT environment (meaning some portions are virtualized while others are on-premises), and 19 percent are using public cloud services.
Virtualization in healthcare IT not only involves the network, but also the hardware components—such as routers and firewalls—that can now be delivered as software elements on a single multi-purpose device. This takes up less space, requires less power consumption, and can provide notable cost savings. A vendor using the latest in virtualization technology manages these applications in a cloud-based environment. Hospital IT networks can stay up to date with the latest software without purchasing new purpose-built equipment. The software is electronically updated with the latest enhancements as they become available.
Improve Agility with Virtualized Networks
With a virtualized network, you are no longer limited by hardware. Agility is enhanced through software configuration, implementation and adaptability.
Additional benefits may include:
1. Ability to Prioritize Critical Traffic
In healthcare, not all network traffic is created equal. Certain types of data can literally mean the difference between life and death for a patient, while other data is not time-sensitive. It’s essential that organizations have the ability to identify and prioritize network traffic as it relates to patient care. With a virtualized network, healthcare systems can divert less critical traffic and manage bandwidth for critical applications over a variety of transportation types.
In the past, Austin Cancer Center sent radiology studies to radiologists after business hours, because the files were so large they bogged down the network during busier office hours. Their Position Emission Tomography (PET) scanner, a scanner used to produce multi-dimensional images of the human body, generates extremely large data files, upward of 1GB per patient. After moving to a virtualized network, Jason Lindgren, Chief Information Officer at Austin Cancer Center indicates that they can now simply adjust the settings and level of service to prioritize the critical files. “Now we can send those in near-real time. After the patient leaves the scanner, the study is already on its way to the radiologist,” says Lindgren. “If we can't get those to the radiologists in time, it can really affect that patient’s care.”
2. More Quickly Connecting New Locations after Expansion or M&A
Connecting networks after a merger/acquisition or moving to a new location can take months with a traditional hardware-centric networking model. However, if fiber is already provisioned, a virtualized network can be live within days. This can enable healthcare systems to begin operating as a single unit much quicker. For new locations, this means they can be online in less time.
Because Miami Children’s Hospital has multiple locations and plans to expand to new locations, the healthcare organization sees the scalability of virtualization as a significant benefit. “As we continue to expand our network to have a data capability that is virtualized, then scaling locations geographically or other ways becomes a much quicker and more efficient process,” says Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Hospital.
3. Improved Network Agility
Things happen fast in healthcare—a large-scale disaster, flu epidemic, training event or community day. More often than not, these events mean your organization needs more bandwidth, and it’s needed quickly. Healthcare systems with on-premises networks simply have to make do with the infrastructures they have. It typically doesn’t make sense to purchase bandwidth and hardware that’s rarely needed.
Lindgren says one of the biggest benefits Austin Cancer Center has found since moving to a virtualized network is that the power is now in their own hands. The center is now able to manage or resolve bandwidth needs based on the actual needs of the clinic, instead of either paying for a level of bandwidth only needed for a short period or having lower network performance during high-need periods.
4. Reduced Burden on IT Department
Complicating this issue is that unlike other industries, healthcare IT is a 24/7 business. Finding IT staffing willing to work nights and weekends often proves challenging, especially since they can find other jobs with regular 9 to 5 hours. Often the more the senior level IT experts work the day shift, which makes it hard to maintain a high level of IT excellence 24/7. Finding talent, particularly those with experience in security isn’t easy either. A 2017 survey conducted by Enterprise Strategy Group and the Information Systems Security Association found that 51 percent of cybersecurity professions reported a talent shortage in security expertise at their organization.
Healthcare systems with a virtualized network can reduce the impact of these challenges by minimizing the amount of time that IT staff spends performing activities like software updates, patches, or managing on-premises equipment.
5. Reduced Costs
In addition, with traditional on-premises solutions, healthcare organizations often have multiple pieces of equipment, each in their own box and each supporting a different function, like routing, security, WAN acceleration, etc. By moving to a virtualized solution, healthcare systems may only have one or two boxes, which actually provide more functionality and a higher level of performance. This can help reduce costs significantly over traditional on-premises solutions.
“The virtual network was significantly lower than what we were already paying, and we found the service level was considerably higher,” says Lindgren. “There is no way I could have accomplished this goal without using a virtualized network.”
Bottom Line: By using virtualized networks, healthcare organizations are reducing costs, providing higher levels of patient care, improving security and enhancing network efficiencies. Hospitals, large healthcare systems or clinics can focus on implementing emerging technologies to support better patient outcomes, rather than spending excess cycles managing their physical data centers and networks.
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