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Network Virtualization: the future of healthcare IT

With the recent and ongoing changes to the healthcare landscape, maintaining an on-premises network simply is not the long-term answer for hospitals, clinics and institutions. By making a plan and moving towards a sustainable IT model, your healthcare system will have the technology needed to help increase patient satisfaction and improve your bottom line.

Several long-term trends are driving healthcare systems to move to a virtualized network.

  • Shifting data towards the cloud – The data at a hospital or institution doesn’t live in a vacuum. Additional data from other places, such as pharmacies, other hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, as well as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), all work together to make up a patient record. Because so much data from these sources is now moving to the cloud, it becomes challenging for healthcare systems to get and share all the data needed to treat patients if their data is stored in an on-premises data center.
  • Increased security requirements – With new security threats occurring daily, and malicious attacks becoming more sophisticated, healthcare IT departments must devote a large amount of resources to protecting their networks and data. However, without dedicated resources and specialized training, it is challenging for a single IT team to have the knowledge and time required to keep their individual network secure.
  • New technology requiring new hardware/software – Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. However, this often means increased infrastructure requirements. Constantly buying new infrastructure becomes too costly for many hospitals. The result? Not being able to support or use the latest medical technology, because the supporting network is too outdated.
  • Lack of experienced IT professionals in healthcare – Healthcare systems often struggle to find the IT talent needed to maintain on-premises infrastructure. Because healthcare IT compensation is often lower than other industries, it is challenging to attract and retain top talent. IT professionals also are often deterred from the 24/7 nature of the healthcare industry, as opposed to jobs with more traditional schedules.

Lee Kim, Attorney, Director of Privacy and Security, HIMSS North America, says “The good old days of healthcare systems maintaining their own infrastructure in-house are pretty much fading fast. We are finding that technology demands are just too much for what a single IT team at a healthcare system can do, so many hospitals and institutions are moving to a virtualized network.”

Miami Children’s Hospital’s took a step-by-step approach to having a completely virtualized network. Last year, the healthcare system moved their customer service data and all applications for the main hospital and 14 outpatient clinics to a virtualized infrastructure. Currently, the supply chain data, clinical data, and fiscal data resides in an on-premises data center with an off-site backup storage location.

“All healthcare systems should very seriously consider virtualization,” says Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Hospital. “The technology has evolved to the point where benefits outweigh the risk. I think the efficiencies, the cost, and the capabilities have advanced to the point where it’s a very viable alternative. Looking at the decade forward, it would almost make no sense for healthcare organizations to invest in their own hardware environment.”

Bottom line: Moving to a virtualized network may seem daunting. You’re not just buying a new piece of equipment or trying out a new technology. Successfully making the move to a software-defined infrastructure takes a shift in mindset and processes, plus planning. Consider starting small, perhaps with depreciated components and adding more virtualized components down the road. By starting small, healthcare systems can show some successes to prove value to leadership. Your IT team can also become familiar with virtualized networks on a smaller scale before moving to a tougher use case.

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