Network Diversity Offers Value in the Healthcare World

Updated on July 26, 2017

Molly TrueLet’s face it, the healthcare industry is constantly changing and healthcare organizations find themselves running to keep up with this rapidly shifting environment. From the uncertainty of current healthcare reform to meeting the compliance needs of Meaningful Use and EHRs and protecting growing amounts of patient information, IT decision makers are moving fast and furious to implement technologies that will support this growing data-centric ecosystem. They are also trying to do this while facing shrinking budgets and less in-house IT support to navigate these challenges, which is not an easy task.  

Whether you are part of a large urban hospital or a small rural health clinic, you’ll want to trust that a reliable communications network is in place to support your applications, data and mission-critical business operations. In addition, with healthcare organizations being at constant risk of security breaches, you have to be prepared with a reliable and secure network to avoid the threats that could impact your entire organization – and those that might put patients’ lives at risk.

Let’s explore three major considerations to help ensure you have a reliable network in place that will meet your ever-evolving needs:

  1. Migration of applications to the cloud
  2. Network diversity to fit growing needs
  3. Relying on network partners

Cloud architecture provides network flexibility

Many hospitals and healthcare organizations are moving mission-critical applications to the cloud because of the flexibility it provides. According to a 2016 HIMSS Analytics Cloud Study, 84 percent of healthcare organizations have adopted cloud-based solutions, suggesting organizations are recognizing the value the cloud offers. Hosting applications in the cloud can help you scale as you grow, collaborate with partners and patients as well as store massive amounts of patient data.

While migrating business operations or applications to the cloud will provide many benefits and help address challenges such as data growth resulting from EHRs and HIPAA regulation, it also magnifies the risk posed by single points of failure in your network infrastructure. Network outages can result from a security breach, fiber cut, power outage or other last-mile access impairment, and can result in loss of data, loss of provider and patient communications as well as lost revenue. If you lose access to the cloud and the Internet, everything can come to a halt, including providing care for your patients. Creating a secure, diverse network to avoid failure is a must because it will keep your business up and running when faced with a disruption.

The right network to fit your needs

Protecting the backbone of your IT operations is key to keeping your organization operational. With various options available, consider the type of network you have in place and ask yourself whether it creates the ultimate level of security and diversity as well as if it supports all of your business and patient-centered applications.

While some healthcare organizations realize the need for reliable connectivity, many do not have an effective network solution in place. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Windstream found that midmarket companies are challenged in creating true access diversity. Specifically, 65 percent are challenged by the reliability and resiliency of their links. Organizations are under tremendous pressure to effectively secure networks and data, while at the same time striving to meet the full array of regulations that have been put in place to protect them and their patients.

There is a plethora of network services to choose from that will provide end-to-end network connectivity to keep your organization fully operational and securely connected, even when the infrastructure is threatened. But you need to make sure you have the right combination of network services to address all your operational needs, which can vary greatly.

When solving for highly available connectivity for healthcare organizations, two solutions to consider include a Hybrid SD-WAN overlay network solution and Fixed Wireless as an access diversity solution. An SD-WAN solution allows seamless management of applications, as well as direct management of your network traffic in real time. SD-WAN is scalable, triggers optimal use of bandwidth and allows easy management of applications. Fixed Wireless is an attractive way to provide optimal network diversity and protection because it does not share points of failure with your fiber assets, it is highly reliable and it offers high-bandwidth speeds.

It is also important to look at your network solution end to end including power, premise equipment, building entry, diverse last mile, diverse homing to your provider’s POPs, and diverse transport method. You need to eliminate single points of failure, and the solution can combine traditional network solutions such as MPLS with newer entrants such as broadband and SD-WAN, depending on the network bandwidth needs of a specific location. This means looking beyond redundancy and asking yourself if the two last mile access loops that you have today share the same physical path? If they do they are redundant but not diverse.

Relying on IT partners

Not all healthcare organizations have an adequate in-house IT department or a reliable IT partner to help ensure they have a dependable network in place that provides full SLA-backed protection.

When your business needs outweigh the ability of your in-house staff to provide guidance on a network plan, you may need to rely on a partner or vendor. In this case, be diligent in investigating your potential partner’s experience. Be prepared to ask questions about their network experience and ask to talk to existing customers.

When searching for a network partner, select one that holds HIPAA certifications and has in place HIPAA safeguards, is willing to sign a Business Associate Agreement, has a solution backed with a stated service level agreement that provides complete, purpose-built diversity, and is continually investing in its own network. These considerations will help ensure your risks are minimized and your business is protected as best as it can be.

About the Author:

Molly True is a Healthcare Marketing Strategist at Windstream.

Prior to Windstream, Molly was at Avaya as a Senior Healthcare Marketing Manager.  She holds a Certified Associate in Health Information & Management Systems (CAHIMS) from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and was a national member of HIMSS while at Avaya. 

Molly has an MBA from Meredith College and a BS in Computer Science from Appalachian State University. She also has product management, and product marketing experience.