By Ian Jansen van Rensburg, VMware Senior Systems Engineer
Powerful technology trends are underpinning dramatic changes in how health services are managed and delivered to patients. Consider telemedicine, which allows doctors and clinicians to talk with patients remotely and diagnose conditions over a live video connection. Telemedicine improves access to medical services that would not be consistently available for people who are immobile, in isolated communities, or in remote regions. With the ability to reach more patients at a lower cost than in-person visits, and the promise to help keep people in their homes and out of hospital, the European Telehealth Market is expected to by almost 25% each year between now and 2024 (Databridge Market Research, 2018).
Electronic health records (EHR) are becoming increasingly common. In the UK for example, the National Health Service is looking to be ‘paper-free at the point of care’ by 2020 – an ambitious programme but one other countries are looking at following. The challenge these programmes have is how to integrate those records across the healthcare spectrum and medical applications in the cloud for greater efficiency, while ensuring access to broader healthcare information that delivers improved patient care and enriches the patient experience.
Two more significant trends pertain to how healthcare providers and caregivers access data. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is on the rise in hospitals and clinics, meaning that data is stored centrally and accessed via smart terminals. Mobile healthcare enables providers to access EHRs and applications from the mobile devices of their choice, such as tablets, as they move among patient rooms and out into the community for home visits.
While these technology trends are helping to create better outcomes for both patients and the entities that treat them, they are igniting challenges with the underlying computing infrastructure that must support the networking and security requirements. Among the challenges, how to:
- Support EHR and applications moving to the cloud with a resilient and secure network
- Ensure connectivity and provide secure access to data for VDI and mobile healthcare
- Ensure high performance for real-time applications such as voice and video for telemedicine and other use cases
- Support the growing use of mobile devices in hospitals and clinics
At the same time, healthcare companies’ wide area networks (WANs) are getting more complex as healthcare organisations grow through privatisation of hospitals and urgent care centres and attempt to use traditional networking solutions to meet the above challenges.
The Power of SD-WAN and the Virtual Cloud Network in Healthcare
As healthcare organisations embark on digital transformation, building a Virtual Cloud Network will enable organisations to connect, secure, and optimise the delivery of applications and data in an era when an increasing number of workloads will exist outside the data centre. With a Virtual Cloud Network, healthcare organisations can create an end-to-end software-based network architecture that delivers services to applications and data wherever they are located from edge to edge, with consistent, pervasive connectivity and security
Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) technology is key to creating a Virtual Cloud Network by greatly simplifying the networking infrastructure that is essential to today’s healthcare networks. SD-WAN is an overlay network that runs on top of an enterprise’s existing infrastructure. While there are various types of SD-WAN solutions, cloud delivered SD-WAN provides the most benefits for the industry including:
- More bandwidth, lower cost – eliminate over dependence on expensive multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) private lines in favour of other, more efficient transport methods, including high-speed broadband and cellular long-term evolution (LTE). Any combination of transport methods can be utilised, giving health IT the flexibility to add more bandwidth to support more applications at a lower cost.
- Connected in minutes – zero-touch deployments involve shipping an edge device to the location and simply plugging it in. The device retrieves and self-installs configurations from a central orchestrator and is up and running almost instantly. This brings the entire venue onto the network with the capabilities defined by a pre-determined central policy—with no visit required from an IT expert.
- Outcome Driven – assures application performance regardless of the transport mechanism by monitoring for conditions like brownout, packet loss, or jitter and steering traffic dynamically across the available connections to optimize an application’s performance—even for voice and video.
- Cloud-Optimised – provides a direct on ramp to the cloud from all locations, eliminating the need to backhaul traffic to a central data centre before going to cloud applications. Cloud-based gateways ensure reliability, performance, and security for all cloud-bound traffic, regardless of where it originates, ensuring prompt and secure access to health information systems especially hosted EHRs and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications in the cloud.
- Improved Information Availability – managed and monitored enterprise-wide from a central location through a cloud-based orchestrator, providing deep visibility and control over what is happening at hospitals and clinics without having to position IT specialists in those locations.
The Healthcare IT Network for the Next 20 Years
Healthcare organisations are embarking on digital transformation to create better experiences for patients, doctors, clinicians and support staff in order to drive better health outcomes. These efforts introduce a new level of networking and security complexity as organisations move from centralised data centres, a distributed healthcare model encompassing multiple hospitals, clinics, urgent care centres and even patient’s own homes. By deploying and implementing a SD-WAN as part of a Virtual Cloud Network, healthcare organisations can immediately cut their networking costs while optimising access to cloud applications from any location, assuring application performance and access to critical information, and enforcing security and compliance across the network.