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  • Mario Sanchez, RCDD

Is Your Hospital’s IT Infrastructure Prepared for the Next Wave of Technology?

For your next facility improvement project, digital infrastructure planning should be a leading topic of conversation, not an afterthought.

Hospital technology abstract image

In the rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, the role of information technology (IT) infrastructure has become increasingly indispensable, making it imperative to prioritize its integration right from the outset when planning a new hospital. The near universal implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) has improved the speed and efficiency of care delivery while enhancing communication and coordination among healthcare teams. Advancements including groundbreaking technologies such as artificial intelligence will continue to impact how healthcare is delivered and healthcare organizations need to be prepared.

Investing in a robust and well-designed IT infrastructure that can become the backbone of modern healthcare systems, will facilitate efficient operations, while enhancing patient care and safety, enabling seamless communication and collaboration among healthcare professionals, and optimizing administrative processes.

Connectivity Across Campus Locations

To achieve ubiquitous access to accurate and real-time medical data, healthcare providers need to integrate robust IT physical infrastructure into their business strategies and facility foundations, regardless of the setting. Outpatient care models are rapidly expanding, driven by the latest technological developments. Therefore, a tech-forward strategy must also be embraced and extended beyond the medical complex to community-based sites where highly mobilized care is provided to facilitate the hospital-to-home continuum of care.

This universal access model necessitates the reliance on fault-tolerant technologies, including fast and stable network connections (wired and wireless) and reliable building systems. These infrastructure components should ensure reliability and stability equivalent to traditional high availability facilities like 911 call centers, energy plants, and data centers. In short, IT infrastructure has become a utility.

As patient care delivery moves away from centralized hospital settings and medical record data is distributed across multiple environments for increased reliability, it becomes crucial to establish reliable, secure, and scalable connections between these remote care environments, data repositories, and mobile workforces.

Anticipate Infrastructure Vulnerabilities and Develop Mitigation Plans

However, optimizing IT physical infrastructure poses several challenges. Identifying infrastructure vulnerabilities is time-consuming, as they are often scattered across various locations, systems, and processes. Transforming these vulnerabilities into actionable priorities requires specialized skillsets and resources that most facilities don't readily have available, as they are typically committed to other valuable efforts.

Furthermore, IT equipment and mobile devices are shrinking in size while increasing their computing capacity at an accelerated rate. This evolution has led to an explosive growth in the number of devices requiring network and IT resources. From advanced building sensors measuring air quality and analyzing foot traffic to body temperature checks for highly infectious diseases, the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming healthcare. Healthcare facilities must be prepared for the influx of devices on their networks and the vast amounts of data they generate. Effectively mining this data for actionable insights and trends will place significant stress on the IT infrastructure, making it an integral part of the healthcare business strategy.

Strategies to Stay Ahead of the Curve

So, how can healthcare providers prepare for what lies ahead? To stay ahead of the ever present technology tsunami, hospitals must be ready to handle the onslaught of data and the resources required to transport, process, store, analyze, and distribute it. Healthcare providers can make the best use of the following hosting strategies, allowing their IT infrastructure to be flexible and resilient:

Scenario 1: Brick and Mortar

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This option involves building an on-site data center with ample space, power, and cooling capacity to house all the information. By not relying solely on the cloud, the risk of losing invaluable data decreases, as the existing risk remains within your control. However, this strategy should not be the sole solution for data management without some level of redundancy.

  • Pros: Local and easily accessible, direct control of data repository.

  • Cons: Expensive construction and maintenance, security and privacy compliance (HIPPA) challenges, increased complexity for redundancy.

Scenario 2: Cloud Hosted

icon for cloud hosting

This approach leverages third-party data center providers, eliminating the need to build a new data center. Many healthcare facilities and clinics have been adopting this trend. EMR providers offer software as a service, with a subscription fee model, freeing you from hiring IT administrators, purchasing servers, or hosting data locally. However, relying on the cloud means your network must be highly robust to ensure a seamless experience. Whether you're a standalone clinic or a large hospital system, your infrastructure should be designed to operate at full capacity and have redundancies in place in the event of internet failure. In other words, you need solid backup, whether it's a redundant copy of data and resources nearby or halfway across the country.

  • Pros: Outsourced hosting, dedicated security protocols, reduces need for local IT administration and on-demand redundancy.

  • Cons: Limited direct control or access, reliance on robust network connectivity, potential pricing based on real estate and energy usage.

3: The Hybrid

hybrid image of brick and mortar and cloud

The hybrid model is the most common-sense approach, combining the best of both worlds. Critical and time-sensitive information is hosted locally, while less critical data or redundant backups are stored remotely. This approach allows scalability within budget constraints and provides fault tolerance through distributed information. Local hosting, with remote backups, ensures low latency and direct control over large data sets like 3D imaging files.

  • Pros: Combined benefits of local and remote hosting, scalable within budget, fault-tolerant and low-latency solutions.

  • Cons: Requires careful management and coordination of both local and remote resources.

How to Decide Among Options

To prepare for the next wave of technology, healthcare providers’ IT infrastructure must embrace the idea of infrastructure being elastic: resilient, able to scale and contract when and where needed. When making the decision between cloud, brick and mortar, or hybrid solutions, consider the following factors:

Geography: Assess the advantages and disadvantages of storing your information on-site, remotely, or using a combination of both. Consider the feasibility of connectivity in your location. If you are in a region prone to natural disasters or critical service outages, plan for data redundancies in less vulnerable locations.

Power: Brick and mortar solutions require redundant power sources capable of sustaining operations for extended periods without relying on the power grid. Evaluate the feasibility of local redundancy versus remote connectivity.

Budget: Balancing the budget with the value and benefits is essential when making critical IT infrastructure decisions. Ensure all infrastructure components are accounted for within the budget to determine the feasibility of implementing a solution.

While we cannot predict the future, it is clear that technology will continue to revolutionize healthcare delivery, enabling a highly connected workforce and continued growth in devices and related data. The next generation of patients will expect the same level of technology integration in healthcare as they experience in their homes. Therefore, infrastructure planning should be a primary topic of conversation and not an afterthought in any facility improvement project.

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