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The need for network assurance in a world of connected healthcare

In an environment of ever tighter budgets and resources, where providers are increasingly expected to do more with less, advances in technology are proving to be a boon in the delivery of healthcare services.

Secure, real-time access to a patient’s electronic medical records (EMR) and test results is now widely taken for granted, with the ability to access and input data anywhere, from virtually any device, delivering efficiency savings for healthcare providers. At the same time, ongoing development of innovative IoT applications continues to open up new ways of monitoring patients’ health and the efficacy of their treatment.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, for example, is working with cloud research firm Medidata Solutions, Inc. to test the use of activity trackers in monitoring the reaction of patients with multiple myeloma to their treatment, enabling improvements to be made over time.

Elsewhere, pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG is undertaking research with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and Propeller Health to develop connected inhalers for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Propeller’s device connects to a dedicated mobile app via sensor to passively record and transmit usage data, allowing doctors to keep accurate track as to whether patients are sticking to their treatment plan.

The application of technologies such as these will only prove beneficial in allowing the secure delivery of more efficient, patient-centric healthcare. However, the complexity they will introduce to a healthcare provider’s network is likely to pose something of a challenge.

Vital visibility

As a result of the transformative effect of digital technology, healthcare staff generally expect to be able to access information almost instantaneously. They are likely to blame the EMR, therefore, when they experience delays in accessing patient records, or curse the email system when they don’t get the message approving a patient’s insurance. In many cases, however, the source of the fault is likely to be a supporting service rather than the EMR or the email system. But without full visibility into the network, this source would be hard to diagnose and remedy.

The fault may well lie with a configuration issue, or a bandwidth problem, or in a poorly designed application. However, when you consider that hospitals and health systems are coming under attack from cybercriminals at a rate of almost one a day in in 2017, any device connected to a network, from iPads to MRI machines to smart beds, can be a target, potentially putting the lives of patients at risk.

One in five healthcare organizations has more than 5,000 devices connected to its network, each one of which represents an endpoint that could be exploited for nefarious purposes. It is easy to understand how the need for visibility becomes significantly more serious.

The value of service assurance can, quite literally therefore, be a matter of life and death. It is vital that hospitals have visibility into their entire networks in order to mitigate any risk before it becomes a problem.

Reliance on the internet of things

Healthcare providers depend on high availability as they adopt new digital services. The increasing use of IoT technology, for example, means that whenever a delay or an outage in network performance occurs, the delivery of patient care can quickly grind to a halt which, in some instances, might prove harmful to patients.

Our reliance on the hyper-connected IoT depends on more than just the application or service currently being used by the healthcare staff, however. The proper function of patient-facing websites and wearable heart monitors alike is dependent on a range of factors, including physical and virtualized infrastructure, hybrid cloud, wired and wireless connectivity, multiple vendors and supporting networks, each of which requires high availability.

IoT has certainly improved the delivery of high-quality healthcare, but faced with the constant and expanding threat from malicious outsiders and with the ongoing development of ever more innovative technologies, the need for complete visibility and service assurance is only set to grow.

This article was co-written by Michael Segal, area vice president of strategic marketing at NETSCOUT.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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