NHIT Week 2018: Intent-Based Networking Transforms Healthcare Campuses

Organizing networks by intent can simplify compliance, security and troubleshooting for healthcare IT teams.

Healthcare is a business like no other. And while digital transformation is never easy, care organizations have some particularly high hurdles to jump. This is because, through digital transformation, healthcare organizations must prioritize data security and privacy, maintain high availability and performance for medical services, and seek to unify complex campuses and distributed clinics with a consistent communications network.

Moreover, the number of devices that need network services is growing rapidly, overwhelming legacy networking gear and IT staffers as they seek to reckon with an influx of endpoints, Wi-Fi access points and security settings.

These campuswide challenges stress the capacity of IT staffs as they struggle to keep up with changes in device types, equipment locations and personnel security profiles. Doctors need access to patient records including data-intensive imaging scans, which call for high-capacity routing. Nurses need consistent Wi-Fi connectivity to monitor patient statuses. Administrators need collaborative video applications to manage a distributed workforce efficiently. Compliance with privacy regulations necessitates that access to patient data is not only restricted to specific groups, but that access can be tracked for audits. And all the while, patients desire easy access to their family support groups via mobile apps and reliable internet connections.

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What It Takes to Manage Networks by Intent

As the technologies employed by healthcare organizations become more complex, distributed and in need of tightened security, the network becomes the foundation for managing change. Working together, IT and administration can design and implement intents that define the access and security policies that the network automatically applies as needed.

Here are a few examples of how an intent-based network automates a range of connectivity issues in a healthcare environment, and also guards against security risks and violations of privacy regulations:

Intent: Only doctors and nurses have access to patient records; other personnel do not.

Policy: Automatically apply security access policies for groups “doctors” and “nurses” to patient records databases.

 

Intent: Patients and visitors have access to the internet but are restricted from connecting to sensitive data sources.

Policy: Define “guest access” for visiting devices and limit connections through the internet firewall; all other segments are off-limits.

 

Intent: Researchers have access to anonymized patient data, but not to live records.

Policy: Group “research” can access anonymized database, not patient records database.

 

Intent: Medical imaging equipment only accepts connections from a restricted segment of the network, ensuring external agents cannot infiltrate sensitive equipment.

Policy: Device types “scanners” allow connections only from network segment “radiology.”

 

Intent: Keep track of critical medical equipment.

Policy: Wi-Fi access points create a location fabric to monitor and report on beacons attached to equipment.

 

Intent: Ensure resilient operation for device network connectivity.

Policy: Seamless failover of access points, switches and routers maintain consistent connectivity for staff and equipment.

Security is often cited as a top priority when deciding to upgrade a healthcare organization’s network. With an intent-based network, adding high levels of security does not complicate business operations, and multiple automation components strengthen security and limit the overall attack surface. When it’s necessary to move medical equipment among campus locations, for example, a policy follows the device so that when it is reactivated in a new location, it automatically connects to the correct network segment. This automation removes a considerable burden from IT while significantly increasing security with consistent policies.

Simplify Healthcare Campus Troubleshooting with IBN

Another major time-sink for IT is troubleshooting random anomalies in network performance. For a healthcare campus, there are often tens of thousands of endpoints connecting through thousands of Wi-Fi access points spread out over a cityscape. This can mean that trying to physically hunt down a specific endpoint fault or random AP error is a vast puzzle of when, where and why.

Instead, with intent-based networks, IT can rely on built-in intelligence to continuously monitor and record traffic and AP performance across the interconnected campus. A central management portal alerts IT to anomalies and can pinpoint when, where and why they occurred. This enables IT to literally find a needle in a giant haystack of APs and endpoints, determine the cause, and in many cases, fix the issue from the central management portal, eliminating the need to track down the device physically.

Healthcare organizations, which are highly dependent on a vast array of technologies to provide excellence in patient care, can find great success in implementing intent-based networks, and, indeed, many already are.

Check out HealthTech’s NHIT Week coverage on our event page, or follow the conversation at @CDW_Healthcare or with the hashtag #NHITWeek.

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Oct 12 2018