May 26 2021

How the Evolution of Networking Infrastructure Supports Smart Hospitals

Smart hospital strategies rely on secure networks to provide speed and efficiency while maintaining HIPAA compliance.

The evolution of technology has transformed the healthcare industry, delivering improved efficiency, reducing risk and increasing awareness. The digitization strategies that many healthcare organizations have adopted offer actionable, meaningful insights to clinical and business outcomes. But these gains come with some challenges, including regulatory standards such as HIPAA. One of the healthcare industry’s biggest concerns is keeping patient data private and secure.

What Is Smart Hospital Strategy?

Smart hospital strategies improve clinical and patient experience through shared applications while complying with HIPAA requirements. Connecting devices using Internet of Things (IoT) management and making real-time clinical or operational decisions are driving factors of smart hospital practice. However, this can create a dependency on networking technology. Among the target outcomes that healthcare providers seek by adopting smart hospital strategies are:

  • Access to clinical applications and data sharing
  • Enterprise communication and security practices
  • Risk reduction through real-time alerts
  • Power management
  • Business and clinical operational outcomes through workflow monitoring tools

These outcomes are achieved through a foundation of infrastructure connecting devices that provide data via real-time sensor output, telemetry waveforms, streaming video and intermittent alerts from various management tools. Insights gleaned from the data can help clinicians intervene in real time.

Networking Is Key to Healthcare Communication

With local area network speeds reaching up to 10/100 gigabits per second and over 400Gbps in the data center, the IT industry has long evolved from the 10-megabit-per-second connections that would be too slow to support the size of modern-day digitized files. Many clinical diagnostics have gone digital, and that means easier sharing capability. Picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) are an example of this. With more data generated and shared, whether by clinicians or patients, networks need to be increasingly robust, scalable, resilient, fault-tolerant and secure.

Digital communications were once limited to emails, text messages or alerts from routers or email servers. With the advent of PACS, telemetry waveforms, EHRs, cloud-based storage portals, private blockchain and other network-based security tools, healthcare is generating far more data than any other industry.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: VA, Air Force test out 5G in hospital settings.

Even with the advent of newer technologies, devices such as video cameras have also evolved to support a greater number of use cases than simple on-premises security. The number of use cases supporting video streaming in real time include centrally managed patient monitoring, in which fall reduction programs are implemented; surgical monitoring for teaching or collaborative operative care; safety programs that guard against baby abduction risk and support Alzheimer’s patient containment; and monitoring of drug dispensing areas.

Clinical compliance and efficacy can also be monitored. For example, handwashing, personal protective equipment use and patient treatment protocols can be monitored using real-time video for optimal risk reduction practices or collaborative efforts — all of which require an increasing amount of network bandwidth as well as a simple way to manage it all securely.

Smart Hospital Strategy Ensures Network Security

Any network-bound device is at risk of being targeted by ransomware. Today, there are a few options for integrating anti-ransomware software within a smart network interface card, or SmartNIC, which helps redirect and block threats. Data processing units on SmartNICs are taking CPU burdens and processing packet inspections at wire speed.

In a smart hospital strategy, there seems to be no limit to the number of devices possible, whether wireless or wired. And with new technology manufacturers wanting to jump on the smart hospital bandwagon, the number of devices on an organization’s network will continue to grow. It’s no wonder healthcare facilities are the second-most energy-intensive operations after food stores, and healthcare executives are constantly looking for ways to reduce operational costs.

LEARN MORE: Why healthcare organizations need an effective incident response plan.

Closing the Connectivity Gap with Robust Networking

Today, smart energy/grid network management systems offer feature-rich and customizable industry protocols that can manage a healthcare facility’s smart energy devices while also managing the communication network connecting them.

The number of nodes continues to grow on any given network, and while traditional wireless connectivity hovers around 150Mbps to 900Mbps, service providers are increasingly making 5G available for healthcare environments whose walls are heavily nested with CAT 6, 7 or 8 cable (and in some cases, older CAT 5). Be it copper or fiber, they’re simply running out of room. According to HealthAffairs, 5G “has the unique potential to contribute to preventative care by leveraging high speeds for data transmission to increase the ubiquity of sensor data, which in turn would facilitate patient access to hospital-like monitoring at [patients’] homes.”

22.3

Percentage of people in rural areas lacking fixed terrestrial broadband coverage

Source: FCC, "2020 Broadband Deployment Report," April 2020

As the pandemic has shifted care more to the home, telehealth creates new opportunities for 5G. Meanwhile, providers and payers are working collaboratively to derive sustainable benefits from 5G. Chronic disease management, mental health monitoring and elderly care make telehealth use cases compelling.

The overarching arena of devices and data prompting smart hospital strategies constantly requires more bandwidth. While 5G promises to close the gap between rural and urban areas in terms of access to care, the infrastructure accommodation is still a concern. Many rural and minority communities don’t have adequate infrastructure. To this point, a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission demonstrated that a gap in rural and Native American tribal communities remains notable: 22.3 percent of those in rural areas and 27.7 percent in tribal lands lack coverage from fixed terrestrial broadband, compared with only 1.5 percent of Americans in urban areas.

The healthcare industry has come a long way in adopting and appreciating smart hospital strategy. Once it can extend its benefits to communities and underserved areas, there is no limit to how far it can go. There is no question that a digital healthcare era has arrived in which the importance of quality networking transport has never been greater.

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