Adding Agility to Healthcare Networks to Meet Faster Pace of Change

By Zeev Draer, VP of Corporate Strategy for Niagara Networks

While the pace of change to medical IT and networking has been great, the turbulent shifts caused by the pandemic has no doubt intensified them. Networking and security teams already empowering digital initiatives and advances now know that they have to be ready for almost anything. Even without the pandemic, most organizations saw increasing use of the internet and network-connected monitors and diagnostics, broader use of telemedicine and remote appointments, greater reliance on mobile apps, and elevated threats on the expanded attack surface of the entire digital healthcare services, ranging from ransomware to disruption of services or theft of confidential information.

Healthcare networking and security teams need to ensure the safety, security, performance, availability, and scale of the network and all its attached users, applications, systems, and equipment—that has been a fact for at least two decades. Now, additional quality has become essential: agility. Teams need to keep pace with change, challenges, and demands at a time when many are already overworked and understaffed. Agility ensures the ability to quickly and efficiently make changes, add or modify technological solutions and services and help ensure the evolution of two new healthcare applications. Teams must attain a better understanding of those needs, challenges, and demands by seeing exactly what is happening on the network.

With the accelerated pace of digital transformation and new software-driven paradigms, agility becomes essential to deal with the steep increases of API driven communications between systems, applications and equipment, medical records and interconnection to insurance firms, health agencies, pharmacies, and other entities and ecosystems. A report last year from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) indicates that nearly a third of hospitals and healthcare organizations in the US believe their data sharing abilities are not sufficient, and less than 40 percent say that they can share information with other health organizations. Even functionality for medical speed and accuracy is becoming API driven. For instance, there is a Tick and Bite Recognition API to accurately identify ticks and their bite marks. There are APIs for managing diabetes. There is even an API specific to Ebola outbreaks. The ProgrammableWeb lists 256 APIs specific to medical, although the number is far higher when monitoring and diagnostics systems are included as well as other things.

APIs bring new functionality and efficiency but also give rise to threats. APIs can be a conduit for cyberattacks and also have to be managed to ensure optimized networking conditions, such as protecting against latency or even more severe, denial of application service. Networking and security teams need to enhance their ability to manage and protect the APIs. Changing requirements around data interchange, such as meeting Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) specifications and its evolution from various HL7 standards add to the complexity and pressures facing networking and security teams.

Agility also enables more quickly deploying new security or visibility solutions to stay ahead of cyberattacks, such as seeing ransomware spread at its earliest stage and cutting it off to minimize damage or disruption. Agility means extending protection to physicians, patients, and staff in remote locations on a variety of devices that is almost always in flux.

The reality is that most network and security teams in healthcare groups are far from agile. Workloads, staff shortages and constant and complex change put teams at an ongoing disadvantage. While these conditions may not be easily solved, organizations can and must gain new efficiencies that can increase agility. New technologies, such as the ability to create a centralized visibility hub with an intelligent switching fabric for quickly and easily changing or adding networking and security solutions can make a sizeable difference. Such platforms can virtually host solutions and bring them the proper network traffic while adhering to policies for encryption and decryption or data masking. At the same time, a centralized hub can and must ensure standards for network performance and availability can bring decisive gains. These platforms also eliminate the issues with extensive and resource-intensive approval or qualification processes, rerouting cabling, limitations of available ports, and limited rack space.

Efficiency can also come from networking and security teams working more closely together by jointly developed procedures and policies will help teams work together more efficiently and will prevent issues from growing into more sizable problems.

After all, medicine is both preventative and therapeutic in nature. Teams and practitioners, each with their own specialty and core competence, come together on behalf of a patient. Should not the network be approached the same way?

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