Feb 07 2019

IoT Pushes Healthcare Organizations to Boost Network Capacity

Transparency and security among the key focal points sought after in solutions upgrades.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is a constantly growing organization.

Since 2013, the total number of patient visits has risen by 20,000 annually. Today, clinicians and staff at the 391-licensed-bed hospital and its multiple satellite clinics care for more than 500,000 inpatient, outpatient and emergency department visitors combined. CHLA is also a significant research entity, says CTO Troy Veilleux.

“Research requirements and needs for device use, data set management and data sharing are much different than for a hospital,” he says. “Researchers often press the envelope. It’s been a huge challenge at times for us to be responsive and effective.”

To facilitate those efforts, CHLA leverages upward of 30,000 connected devices every day, including barcode scanners, infusion pumps, heart rate monitors, medical imaging equipment and more. That’s nearly five times the roughly 6,100 connected devices it needed just 10 years earlier, and the total continues to grow daily.

“Medical devices, Windows workstations, laptops, iPads, cellphones — you name it, our connected environment is ever growing,” Veilleux says. “There are all sorts of devices coming in all the time.”

That continuous influx of new technologies combined with those items already on CHLA’s network has led the hospital’s IS department to rethink its approach to device management. Last year, the organization deployed Cisco Software-Defined Access (SD-Access), which uses a controller architecture and intent-based networking to automate user access policy across an enterprise. It also implemented Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA), which presents an organization’s network on a single screen.

That allows IT teams to analyze issues at a glance before implementing appropriate solutions.

“It’s about understanding through profiling what devices are what, and through automated segmentation, figuring out how they are going to be provisioned and where they can live,” Veilleux says.

CHLA CTO Troy Veilleux

“We have to be able to resolve network issues as early and quickly as possible,” says CHLA CTO Troy Veilleux. Photography by Peter Bohler.

CHLA is not alone in its quest to modernize its network infrastructure. As the number and necessity of connected devices used by hospitals continue to climb, ­organizations are prioritizing Internet of Things initiatives focused at the ­foundational level.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: Check out how network management tools help providers head off traffic bottlenecks.

Concord Hospital Virtualizes Networks to Simplify Infrastructure

Deloitte estimates that by 2022, the Internet of Medical Things market will reach $158 billion. Specifically, it predicts the associated systems and software market will hit $49 billion, and the services market will reach $29 billion. Jeff Becker, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, agrees that the market is on a rapid upswing, thanks in part to the potential benefits for both patients and providers.

“Healthcare IoT networks are quickly becoming a key resource in the ongoing effort to improve outcomes and reduce the cost of care,” Becker says. That holds true at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire, which relies on solutions from Extreme Networks to simplify and reinforce its network infrastructure.


Number of connected devices at Houston Methodist Hospital

Source: Houston Methodist Hospital

Concord moved 400 VLANS, 100 closets and two data centers to Extreme Fabric Connect, according to CTO Mark Starry, who says the hospital’s rapidly expanding network supports up to 3,000 devices at a time.

In addition to supporting the hospital’s wireless access points, Fabric Connect also unifies networking across the organization’s clinics throughout the state. Palo Alto Networks firewalls help Concord to boost its security posture by controlling access and communication.

“The setup lets us authenticate every single device on our network, whether it’s wired or wireless,” Starry says. “It’s allowed us to create virtualized network segments for our medical devices so everything is isolated and walled off.”

That security, he says, is critical at a time when more and more facilities are falling prey to hackers. “For us, threat prevention is all in the management process,” Starry says. “It’s knowing what’s on our network at all times and maintaining full network access control.”


CHLA Tracks IoT Threats with Optimized Networks

The CHLA network update has been far from a minor undertaking. In addition to the Cisco SD-Access and DNA implementations, the effort includes upgrades of more than 300 Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches and 2,000 Cisco Aironet 3800 access points. The hospital plans to be able to connect 100,000 devices over the next five years. What’s more, the organization deployed Cisco’s Identity Services Engine, Firepower, Umbrella and AMP tools to shore up protection from evolving cyberthreats.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles

The number of connected devices at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has increased fivefold over the past decade. Photo courtesy of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

“On the deployment side of things, it’s also about ensuring security,” Veilleux says. “With so many devices out there to keep track of, it’s important for us to be able to do our jobs efficiently and effectively. It can’t be just react-to-the-problem troubleshooting; we have to be able to resolve network issues as early and quickly as possible.”

Veilleux adds that CHLA’s new streamlined and customer-oriented approach to IoT management is more akin to having a service desk than a core help desk.

“You just click on the graphical user interface app that says, essentially, ‘Here’s where the problem is, and here’s what we’re recommending,’ and then you click again to resolve it,” he says. “We’re just starting to leverage the new software now, but over time we expect first-call resolution will be a much more regular occurrence.”

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: See how intent-based networking can transform healthcare campuses.

Houston Methodist Tackles a Growing IoT Landscape

One facility that’s already seeing positive results from a similar setup is Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. The organization’s IT team is tasked with maintaining a wireless network to support more than 45,000 devices. For more than a year, the 900-bed organization has relied on Cisco DNA Assurance to manage its IoT setup, says Network Engineer Manuel Ortiz III.

Troy Veilleux
Our connected environment is ever-growing; there are all sorts of devices coming in all the time.”

Troy Veilleux CTO, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

“When you step back and take a look at the big picture and all of these different things that require internet connectivity, it can be daunting sometimes,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is be proactive in the way that we’re taking on the issues that come up. Being able to automatically obtain inventory from your network is crucial.”

The solution allows Ortiz and his colleagues at Houston Methodist to get ahead of such problems, often before anyone can realize that something has gone wrong.

“Instead of waiting for a ticket that says, ‘Hey, I think we need some help over here,’ with Cisco DNA, we are able to see issues bubbling up in real time.”

Looking ahead, Ortiz says there’s no doubt that Houston Methodist’s IoT environment will only continue to grow. Still, he remains confident that the organization will be able to keep up with whatever demands need to be met.

I think we’re prepared for just about anything,” Ortiz says. “Having a properly designed network is key. It’s about the experience you’re going to get at the end of the day.”

“I’m sure that we have what we need to handle it.”

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