On the safe side: Cloud-managed networks in hospitals and clinics

It is no longer a dream of the future: Surgeons practice complex operations on a 3D print model and discuss the procedures of an operation with their patients in a virtual simulation. Artfiical intelligence is used to optimize administrative processes and, increasingly, diagnostics in everyday clinical practice. Wristbands enable continuous monitoring of patient vital signs using wireless transmission. What remains at the end of increasing digital processes in clinics is significantly more time for patients, their cure and care.

But, without a functioning network, the process of digitization is hardly to achieve. An efficient network is the heart of every modern clinic, designing and managing it is a highly complex operation. Already today, each individual hospital bed in US hospitals has more than 10 – 15 networked devices in its periphery. Without a doubt, the process of digitalization will continue at a rapid pace.

Cloud management is keeping pace with technical progress

As positive as digitizatiation is, the consequences for a (existing) network are far-reaching: The different sections of the hospital and areas of responsibility—medical data transmission, communication, multimedia entertainment, and administration—demand a reliable infrastructure. An increasing number of devices require constant and uninterrupted access to sensitive and / or vital information.

The consequence: The networks have to process more and more data. Legacy networks at hospitals were rarely designed to meet such requirements. Generally, these systems cannot be expanded quickly to meet changing needs, making them just the opposite of what modern hospitals need: A versatile infrastructure that, rather than being limited by permanently installed components, is flexible and scalable, i.e. quickly adapts to changing requirements.

The changing framework conditions will eventually overload conventional network structures and force managers to rethink. To get a grip on the increasing complexity, networks have to be “rethought” and replaced by flexible cloud-managed infrastructures. The following three questions play a key role:

1) How can networked services such as the digital documentation of treatments, patient monitoring, or location solutions, etc. for medical devices be made available to doctors and nurses?

2) How do we guarantee not only IT security but also patient data sovereignty at the same time?

3) How do modern services such as Wi-Fi hotspots and entertainment systems contribute to patient satisfaction, and what effect do these investments and changes ultimately have on the total cost of ownership (TCO)?

The above mentioned questions could be answered by taking modern Software Defined technology into account reflected via cloud-managed (W)LAN concepts and modern SD-WAN solutions, e.g. for real-time connection of distributed hospital locations, external specialists and rehabilitation centers. The focus here is no longer just on the hardware and a one-off installation of the infrastructure. In fact, it is more a matter of ensuring that the actual state of the networks and individual components are always visible and that data traffic is secure. Another concern that can be addressed is the enormous cost pressures hospital operators have to face, a cloud-managed hospital network represents considerable opportunities and prospects.

Automation becomes the key to success

The fundamental idea behind a cloud-managed network is the automatic installation, monitoring and expansion of networks. Older digital infrastructures, traditionally management-intensive and static, may be transformed into dynamic networks with flexible expansion options. For this purpose, functional levels of the network are separated from the hardware in the form of virtual services, i.e. the control plane is separated from the data plane. A software application controls the handling of data packets on the hardware data plane—routers, firewalls, switches or access points. While traditional architectures required changes to the settings on old and new hardware to be configured individually and manually, cloud management enables the central, location-independent design, management and monitoring of networks with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Cloud-based management pays off in many ways

In the long term, cloud-managed hospital networks are far more economical than traditional networks, as they offer higher performance and lower maintenance costs, especially since there is almost no need for on-site technicians. The network orchestrator, like the LANCOM Management Cloud, handles the configuration in which the resources among IT technicians are freed up can be used for planning, monitoring and further development of the networks. The entire infrastructure gains versatility and can be adapted to shifting requirements much faster than before. For example, bandwidths are adjusted within minutes, services are enabled and stopped online, and the status of the entire network is constantly monitored in real time. Even complex processes such as troubleshooting or rolling out new network segments and services can be completed within minutes or at least hours.

On the way to future viability

Hospital operators are under enormous pressure due to the increasing requirements mentioned above. This pressure is directed straight at their IT departments, because they need to be the trailblazers for a holistic digital strategy that includes medical equipment, IT technology, and data networking. Clinics and hospitals aiming to digitize their processes in a sustainable and legally compliant manner have a lot to consider when setting up and expanding their network infrastructure. It is worth taking a close look at planned investments and tenders and seeking expert advice if in doubt. In the next few articles, we will therefore take a closer look at the requirements surrounding WLAN in the medical environment and compliance issues.

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