Choosing a Secure WAN Solution For Your Health System

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By Ginger Woolridge

Hospitals today are filled to the brim with exciting technology unheard of before: Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, intraoperative neuromonitoring systems (IONM), electronic health records (EHR), and robotic surgical systems that provide real-time feedback to the doctors in charge.  

Your hospital is inundated daily with your patients’ financial and personal data. To run a sound and reliable health system, you require a reliable and secure way to share and store that data. Here we will discuss the best wide area network (WAN) options for your hospital system.  

Network Vulnerabilities Lead to Hospital Breaches 

Besides keeping your patients healthy, keeping your patient data safe is the most critical aspect of your practice today. Social Security numbers, Medicaid ID numbers, insurance, and payment information are just a few of the personally identifiable information (PII) data points that your hospital is in charge of keeping under lock and key 24/7. Failure to do so will result in HIPAA violations, expensive lawsuits, and PR initiatives, and ultimately reduced trust in your institution. 

Unfortunately, the hackers are well aware that hospital systems are gold mines for valuable PII, and many have been the victim of cyberattacks in the past. BlueCross BlueShield, Community Health Systems, and Banner Health are just a few of the health systems that have experienced data breaches over the years, and the cost of these breaches can reach hundreds of millions. 

Avoid being the next health system in the headlines by being educated on your WAN connectivity options and ensuring that your health system utilizes the best network for your organization.  

Wide Area Network (WAN) Options for Your Health System

Your health system’s wide area network or WAN is what enables each hospital, administrative building, and data center to connect and share data, voice, and video. There are numerous options for your WAN connectivity, and here we are going to focus on the most common solutions for modern hospital systems:

  • Point-to-Point Connectivity: Point-to-point connections have been a go-to WAN product type for years and involve two-way connections between two endpoints. With P2P connections, your data travels from one endpoint directly to the other with no carrier routing, giving you the benefit of high bandwidth capabilities, low latency (can be as low as 5 ms), and ultra-tight cybersecurity. 
  • MPLS: Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) is a private, carrier-managed network where the carrier owns the network, deploys routers, and manages policies for the customer. Though some people consider MPLS an aging WAN product type, banks, hospitals, financial institutions, insurance companies, and other regulated industries rely on MPLS.
  • SD-WAN: Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) are made up of two layers: the underlay and overlay networks. An SD-WAN’s underlay network consists of connection to the public internet and often leverages other WAN connections, such as MPLS, internet, fiber optic, or cellular networks. The SD-WAN’s overlay network consists of multiple virtualized network layers that create any-to-any connectivity. 

Comparing Your Hospital’s WAN Options: Security

While advances in technology have made 2021 an exciting time to work in healthcare, the twenty-first century has unveiled a new breed of challenges facing modern hospital systems: the threat of cyberattacks exposing your patient data and causing network downtime. Here are a few key takeaways on the security features of the WAN solutions in question: 

  • Point-to-Point Connectivity: P2P connectivity is an ultra-secure WAN option for hospitals to utilize as it is privately routed and entirely avoids the public internet. Some carriers also offer encrypted P2P lines, providing additional cybersecurity benefits. 
  • MPLS: Like P2P, MPLS networks are separate from the public internet, making it another secure transport option for your health system. Security solutions, however, are required to protect the network and are not provided by your MPLS network provider; they are the responsibility of your health system to acquire. 
  • SD-WAN: The various SD-WAN providers offer different types of security options. Today, SD-WAN + SASE, an SD-WAN and cloud-based security package rolled into one, has become quite popular for companies whose WAN security is top-of-mind. SD-WAN allows users to build a multi-layered security strategy that includes firewalls, URL filtering, end-to-end encryption, and more, controlled in an easy cloud-based network management tool.

While P2P and MPLS networks come out of the box with more excellent security features, SD-WAN is a highly configurable and flexible WAN solution that can offer robust security features. Other factors to consider when selecting the best WAN solution for your health system include reliability, redundancy/uptime, scalability, and of course, cost.  

The Best WAN Solution for your Hospital

While 2020 showed us the perils of a new virus in the world, don’t let 2021 be the year your hospital’s network connectivity falls victim to a new virus. If you want to protect your patients and their patient data, your hospital’s operations, and reputation, make 2021 the year you implement the best and most secure WAN solution for your hospital. 

Ginger Woolridge is the Head of Growth at Lightyear, a web platform that helps businesses comparison shop for network services (dedicated internet access, WAN solutions, VoIP, managed services, etc.). Ginger is based in NYC.

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