Network monitoring for a hearty healthcare industry


By Andrew Timms, Sales Director APAC, Paessler AG
Friday, 06 November, 2015

Network monitoring for a hearty healthcare industry

As technology continues to advance each day, it also brings with it enormous growth potential across various sectors and organisations. The medical and healthcare industries in Australia, for instance, are increasingly recognising the influence of information technology (IT) on the delivery of healthcare services.

In fact, according to Frost & Sullivan, Australia is the second largest market for health technology adoption across Asia Pacific (APAC) — with the region being the fastest growing healthcare IT market globally.

While this places Australia at the forefront of IT adoption in medicine, Frost & Sullivan suggests that there is still some way to go in relation to technology innovation.

This is primarily due to the fragmentation in the Australian healthcare system, which prevents information and data collected from being managed, shared and used effectively.

Leading hospitals and healthcare providers are looking to mitigate the problem by exploring established solutions such as network monitoring.

At its core, this enables IT managers to better monitor and manage their entire infrastructure, giving them better access to information and intelligence that will help healthcare providers operate more efficiently.

Hospital environments, however, consist of complex systems with a vast number of integrated components and special requirements, which often go beyond the conventional needs of a typical IT network.

Healthcare’s unique IT needs

Modern healthcare providers require a state-of-the-art IT network that can successfully fuse classic IT infrastructure with the latest technology advancements, such as fully electronic patient medical records and medical equipment.

More often than not, such networks also feature practice management systems, which rely on multiple interoperable systems and third parties in order to work efficiently.

To guarantee the best treatment for patients, all critical information has to be available on demand and 24/7. In order to achieve this, it is vital for any network or IT problem to be proactively identified, as delays in accessing medical records can result in slower delivery of care — thereby resulting in potential medical issues for the patient.

The benefits of IT monitoring

Comprehensive monitoring of all IT components is essential to ensure the safe and reliable operation of processes throughout the wider organisation. Across sites and applications, hospitals must ensure that important patient information is easily accessible to all involved parties, that medical equipment works reliably and that all processes run smoothly during emergencies as well.

Automated alarms, which are typically triggered by an IT monitoring system once it locates unusual occurrences, malfunctions or even failures, have the potential to further boost the level of security.

However, it is crucial that the monitoring solution provides ample alert options — be it via email, text messaging or a mobile app.

In this way, IT managers will be able to rectify the issue almost immediately, as they would have instantaneous data that can help them identify the exact root of the problem, how long it has been an issue, as well as the processes that have been affected.

Thus, a good monitoring software does not only play the role of an IT system monitor, but also has the ability to make a significant impact on the delivery of healthcare services and patient care across the board.

How it works in a hospital

One of the main differences in comparison to traditional businesses is that the hospital is staffed around the clock. This requires information and medical devices — in short, the entire infrastructure — to be available 24/7.

However, with IT staff usually working a fixed eight hours each day, this has led to the need for on-call duties. Furthermore, in some facilities, the functionality of networks must be maintained across distributed locations as well.

This is where a monitoring solution can provide valuable assistance, by showing live and up-to-the-minute data on central dashboards, and most importantly, delivering alerts when anything out of the ordinary happens.

In fact, some facilities have actually deployed wall displays in the workspace to clearly illustrate the current network status for all staff members.

In addition, network monitoring helps to allocate financial resources. Potential savings can be realised by avoiding malfunctions and failures, or by using all the collected data for process optimisation.

At the same time, administrators can also see exactly where problems exist, or where the network load is too heavy or too low. Ultimately, it enables IT managers to identify real needs, justify the costs of upgrades, as well as decide where to make IT investments that will do the most good for the organisation.

The monitoring of everything

In a hospital environment, while large parts of the infrastructure are typically not associated with traditional IT, they are nevertheless of essential importance. These include clinical imaging devices — such as fluoroscopy (X-ray), CT, MRI, refrigerators for blood and pharmaceuticals, a backup power supply system, as well as heat and power stations for medical equipment.

The good news is: these components can also be integrated into a comprehensive monitoring platform, thereby enabling both IT and non-IT elements to be centrally monitored.

Fundamentally, the measured data is compiled into an easy-to-use graphical snapshot of the entire network’s performance. From a main dashboard, the IT team will be able to drill down to examine specific details about particular components.

With a built-in automatic reporting system, specific reports can be provided via email on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to keep track of normal operating status and spot any abnormal trends.

A central monitoring solution can help considerably to improve the quality of patient care by ensuring that the entire hospital infrastructure is working efficiently at all times.

Furthermore, it can also assist in terms of cost savings, productivity gains and the optimal usage of budgets and resources.

Ultimately, networking monitoring technology can make sure that IT teams are alerted swiftly and reliably in case of any disturbances — alleviating the risks that come with potential downtime.

Image courtesy NEC Corporation of America under CC

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