The phrase “digital transformation” gets thrown around a lot these days when discussing IT infrastructure. A popular — albeit slightly vague — buzzphrase for a reason, digital transformation, in this context, simply refers to the idea that businesses are working to modernize their operations and leverage the power of new technologies.
No industry has undergone more digital transformation in recent years — a trend that will likely continue — than healthcare. In the not-so-distant past, healthcare providers had been notoriously slow to adopt next-gen technologies, but the COVID-19 pandemic, as it did to so many other industries, drastically accelerated that pace. Telehealth, of course, is the clearest example of this, but healthcare is also evolving in other ways, from both technology and business perspectives.
“The data center of yore was inside the four walls of the hospital, but the future state is very distributed. Hospitals are looking to modernize their infrastructure and provide technology to support new care models.”
In other words, as healthcare continues to evolve, expanding beyond the traditional hospital setting, digital transformation will be critical. This is certainly not a new revelation. From advancements to diagnostic imaging and scanning tools and the digitization of medical records to ongoing industry-wide consolidation trends — with regional medical providers swallowing up local clinics and rural practices as well as large retailers acquiring pharmacies and minute clinics — to the ever-present threat of cybercrime, healthcare providers have a lot more to consider from an IT perspective than they used to.
In order to meet these evolving requirements, many healthcare companies are embarking on digital transformation initiatives to deliver the appropriate workflows, policies, processes, and IT environments and, ultimately, provide a better experience for their customers.
WHY CONNECTIVITY IS KEY
No matter where an organization is in its digital transformation journey — whether it be transitioning from physical infrastructure to virtualized environments, virtual to public cloud, or cloud native — connectively will, inevitably, be a key piece to the puzzle.
Legacy infrastructure, like MPLS and backhaul networks, are simply no longer sufficient to support modern applications that require low latency and high bandwidth. Last-mile connectivity has also become increasingly important, especially in healthcare, as organizations connect to cloud-based services and patients connect to digital platforms for virtual care.
Therefore, significant changes to the connectivity infrastructure and the adoption of next-gen technologies are required to support digital transformation. In fact, Gartner predicts that up to 25 percent of users will manage their wide area networking (WAN) through software within two years. By embracing these changes, organizations, especially those in healthcare, can take advantage of the power of cloud computing and modern development practices to drive innovation and growth.
To support these changes, new technologies, like software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), have emerged.
WHAT IS SD-WAN?
What does that mean in English? Well, let’s say your organization’s network is a highway. Its traffic would, of course, be all the vehicles on the road. If it’s anything like New York, where I’m from, this traffic can at times be, well, burdensome. To bring this metaphor home, SD-WAN isn’t the road itself or the cars on it, but a GPS-like technology with the ability to aid and optimize traffic across your network.
This can prove especially critical for healthcare systems, where unexpected connectivity issues interfering with day-to-day operations can, quite literally, be a matter of life and death. To that end, SD-WAN has several key immediate and long-term benefits for those looking to get the most out of their network and, perhaps, spur on digital transformation.
The first is traffic shaping and filtering, which allows organizations to prioritize critical applications and control bandwidth usage. This feature enables organizations to ensure that critical applications receive the necessary resources and that non-critical applications do not consume excessive bandwidth. The second is QoS and SLA policies, which allow businesses to set policies that ensure critical applications meet their performance requirements. QoS policies enable businesses to prioritize network traffic based on its importance, while SLA policies enable businesses to monitor network performance and ensure that it meets the agreed-upon service level.
Over the long haul, organizations can also use SD-WAN to expand their network infrastructure thanks to features like multi-site connectivity, which enables network integration across multiple sites. This feature simplifies network management and ensures that all sites have consistent policies and configurations. When an organization expands or goes through merger and acquisition processes, as many in healthcare have done recently, it can instantly gain connectivity to new sites (as long as they have a WAN connection), without needing to add an additional line or install expensive MPLS hardware. That connectivity will also obey existing traffic policies for your current sites.
Finally, SD-WAN allows for integration with additional services. For example, Managed Security Services, such as SIEM and MDR, continue to be important for evolving enterprises — especially those in healthcare, which gets hit harder by cybercrime than any other industry. SD-WAN integrates with each of these services (and more), enabling internal or third-party security operations centers (SOC) to monitor for security threats and respond quickly to security incidents. SD-WAN can also be utilized to improve an organization’s business resiliency by integrating with disaster recovery solutions.
IMPROVING PATIENT CARE WITH SD-WAN
Providing high quality patient care is — or at least, should be — the primary driving force behind most healthcare organizations. While there will always be obstacles impeding the quality and delivery said care, from budgetary constraints and C-suite misalignment to security and compliance-related concerns and the increasing complexity of IT systems, technology must be considered a solution, not a problem.
Liam Canavan, a healthcare specialist, seems to agree, recently writing that improving patient care begins with technology. Basically, digital transformation, he argues, is paramount to success in healthcare, empowering executives, physicians, nurses, researchers, and staff members to achieve their primary objective: improving patient care and satisfaction.
SD-WAN has a huge role to play in this regard — capable of revolutionizing how healthcare organizations store and manage information with improved security, flexible scalability, and uninterrupted networking.
But don’t just take our word for it. In 2018, VMware, in conjunction with Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), published a white paper detailing the positive impact SD-WAN can have on healthcare. Still incredibly relevant, this paper, which I wanted to highlight, outlines five specific ways that SD-WAN solutions can be used to enable healthcare solutions and improve patient care.
According to their analysis, SD-WAN solutions can help transform a hodge-podge collection of inflexible legacy WAN links into a dynamic enabler for healthcare organizations by delivering:
- Secure connectivity between remote offices, satellite offices, hospital data centers, hosted applications, and cloud applications.
- The ability to leverage virtualization to segment all traffic traversing the network.
- Effective failover protection.
- Centralized and simplified control of policies and management.
- Appropriate levels of performance to ensure highest level of customer experience.
Their conclusion then is the same as ours today: Now, more than ever, is the time for healthcare organizations to fully realize the benefits of SD-WAN. For many in healthcare, it has already delivered higher levels of productivity, security, service, and customer satisfaction, from the largest hospital to the smallest satellite office.
To learn more about 11:11 Connectivity and SD-WAN and how it can positively impact patient care across your healthcare organization, check out our recent webinar on SD-WAN and digital transformation or feel free to contact us directly.