How SD-WAN transforms health IT networking & security

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, telemedicine is projected to be a $40 billion industry by 2021 (Research and Markets, June 2016).

Electronic health records are now common throughout physicians’ offices since they were mandated in 2014 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The challenge now is to integrate those records with other healthcare organizations and medical applications in the cloud for greater efficiency and 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 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
• Ensure compliance with HIPAA, PCI-DSS and other relevant regulations

At the same time, healthcare companies’ wide area networks are getting more complex as healthcare organizations grow through mergers and acquisitions of hospitals and urgent care centers 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 organizations embark on digital transformation, building a Virtual Cloud Network will enable organizations to connect, secure, and optimize the delivery of applications and data in an era when an increasing number of workloads will exist outside the data center. With a Virtual Cloud Network, healthcare organizations 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 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 private lines in favor of other, more efficient transport methods, including high-speed broadband and cellular long-term evolution. Any combination of transport methods can be utilized, 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-optimized – provides a direct on ramp to the cloud from all locations, eliminating need to backhaul traffic to a central data center 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 applications in the cloud.
Secure protected health information - isolates traffic from remote locations all the way into the data center according to policies, such as keeping PHI separate from other data on the network. Additional security like next-generation firewalls and advanced threat detection can be added as cloud-based network functions when needed.
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.

Saber Healthcare Group uses high performance SD-WAN to support health initiatives
Saber Healthcare Group manages more than 120 skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities in six states that serve more than 10,000 residents. The company has a Telehealth initiative in which skilled nurses at Saber Healthcare’s facilities can help remote doctors assess a resident’s prognosis from the comfort of the resident’s room. To support the Telehealth platform, Saber Healthcare needed access to large amounts of bandwidth with non-disrupted service and optimized quality of service.

The company implemented a cloud-delivered SD-WAN across its facilities to support its current and future initiatives to deliver exceptional care to its residents. “Complaints about network speed were common with our legacy network. Now with cloud delivered SD-WAN, we don’t encounter that issue anymore,” according to Curtis McEwen, Senior Network Engineer, Saber Healthcare. The new system enables doctors to efficiently deliver top quality care to residents whenever needed from their remote locations.

The healthcare IT network for the next 20 years
Healthcare organizations are embarking on digital transformation to create better experiences for patients, physicians, clinicians and support staff in order to drive better health outcomes. These efforts introduce a new level of networking and security complexity as organizations move from centralized data centers, a distributed healthcare model encompassing multiple hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and even patient’s own homes. By deploying and implementing a SD-WAN as part of a Virtual Cloud Network, healthcare organizations can immediately cut their networking costs while optimizing access to cloud applications from any location, assuring application performance and access to critical information, and enforcing security and compliance across the network.

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Christopher Logan is a Healthcare Industry Strategist at VMware and is responsible for enabling healthcare organizations to achieve their strategic outcomes through the implementation of VMware’s solutions. Mr. Logan most recently was the Chief Information Security Officer for Care New England Health System located in Providence, RI, where his role was providing security and technology leadership and enabling positive business outcomes for the organization and its partners. He holds multiple industry certifications which include the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium as well as an MBA from Bryant University. He is also a board member for Association for Executives in Health Information Security (AEHIS).

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