Network Visibility for the Delivery of Quality Healthcare
April 03, 2018

Michael Segal
NetScout

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Healthcare, in common with many other industries, is undergoing a significant digital transformation. As resources and purse strings become ever tighter, healthcare providers are becoming increasingly dependent on advancements in digital technology to enable them to do more with less.

The ability for healthcare practitioners and patients alike to securely access to electronic medical records (EMR) in real time, for example, not only improves an organization's operational efficiency, but can also enable more accurate diagnosis of a patient's condition, and inform their ongoing treatment plan.

Similarly, the introduction of e-prescriptions and the expansion of Wi-Fi connectivity throughout hospitals and doctors' surgeries have led to a reduction in administrative burden, freeing up frontline operatives to allow them to focus more on delivering high-quality services to their patients.

What's more, the ongoing adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the use of connected wearable devices in particular, has opened up new, innovative ways of monitoring patients' health and measuring the effect of their treatment.

However, while the health and efficiency benefits of this digital transformation are clear, it is having an impact on the IT networks that power today's healthcare providers. The increased complexity that comes with the introduction of these new technologies is responsible for performance issues and potential vulnerabilities, leading to a need for greater visibility into the data crossing these networks, and for a view of how better to manage the technology itself.

Protecting Patient Care

Healthcare providers never have a "typical" business day. Given the organic nature of a hospital, for example, where patients, staff and visitors are continuously moving in and out of the campus, and a wealth of different devices are being added and removed on an ongoing basis, the demand on its network and services will be unpredictable at best. It's vital, therefore, to have better insight into the performance of services across the network.

Protecting patient care in today's hyper-connected world largely depends on protecting and optimizing a healthcare provider's wired and wireless networks, and the services that run through them. Much of the functionality — the key services and applications — upon which healthcare organizations rely, tends to be multi-vendor, requiring IT teams to ensure that everything is working together without friction. Achieving visibility into this environment is complicated by the fact that these services will be running across both physical and virtualized environments as well as private, public and hybrid cloud environments, which only adds to the levels of complexity.

High Availability

While challenges around network complexity and multi-vendor, siloed technologies may not, at first glance, appear to have much bearing on delivering high-quality patient care, any issues with either the network or applications will have a knock-on effect. Delays in accessing information, for example, such as appointment times, medical images, diagnostic data or drug interactions, can have a negative impact on a patient's experience of the service.

Network downtime is a challenge for healthcare providers, even when it's scheduled. Problems can be further amplified when an outage is unscheduled due to an application error or a breach, especially when you consider that hospitals and health systems are currently being targeted by cybercriminals at a rate of almost one a day. With one in five healthcare organizations claiming to have at least 5,000 devices connected to its network, each of which represents an endpoint that could be exploited for criminal gain, any outage resulting from such an attack could potentially put patient lives at risk.

Healthcare providers will continue to adopt innovative new digital services in a bid to improve efficiency and quality. With each of these services dependent on high availability, not only to ensure the seamless delivery of care, but also the protection of patients, the need for network visibility and service assurance before, during and after their implementation has never been more critical.

Michael Segal is VP of Strategy at NetScout
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