Opinion: What lies ahead for health care IT

Shawn Adamson

Shawn Adamson

By Shawn Adamson

As the industry moves through 2014 and begins planning for 2015, several trends continue to dominate the health care IT landscape. Health care organizations are grappling with the explosion of Big Data and implementing strategies to achieve varying stages of meaningful use. The industry is working towards interoperability, mobility and improving data security – all while looking to control costs and provide quality care.

New health care technologies hold great promise to improve both access to and quality of care, but they are in varying stages of adoption and federal approvals. This is leaving health care organizations and their IT directors searching for flexible solutions that can address current and future technologies.

Unfortunately, the industry’s approach to how technology is sourced, implemented and integrated as a business strategy is fractured. Many vendors offer different approaches to today’s health care technology challenges, but very few offer total solutions.

With that said, some technology is taking hold such as digital hospital rooms, virtual medicine kiosks and mobile e-health devices that allow physicians and other clinicians to monitor, diagnose and treat patients from remote locations.  PACS imaging, electronic health records (EHR) and other data can now be shared within the entire health care ecosystem – from patients and clinicians to pharmacists and payers, and this is progress. But it’s been slow to take shape and there are still many questions to be answered.

Some of these new technologies have come to fruition during a time of industry consolidation and the resulting growth of health networks. As providers align with health networks, and those networks consolidate to realize economies of scale, IT professionals are further tasked with coordinating technology across multiple locations. Building a unified network infrastructure across multiple locations enables continuity of patient care, with providers having “anytime/anywhere” access to patients’ electronic health and medical imaging records.

The security of private patient data – both within the hospital walls and within the cloud where many electronic health records are stored — is another issue of concern for IT decision makers. As health care organizations and individual clinicians increase their use of mobile technologies to manage patient care, there are more potential areas for weakness from a security standpoint, and more opportunities for violating  HIPPA regulations.

The health care paradigm is changing with the digitization and mobility of data. The issues and technologies mentioned here – and those that will be introduced in the future – should make it clear that effectively managing patient data is crucial to running a successful health care system.

Unfortunately, this data explosion is straining the existing data networks of many health care organizations, which often don’t have the needed capacity to keep up with increasing amounts of data traffic traversing the network. The sheer size and private nature of EHR and imaging files alone requires not only a secure network (internally and externally) but also a scalable one, as more and more records become digitized and video applications become more prevalent.

Just like the human body needs a strong core to achieve a healthy level of fitness, supporting health care technology requires a strong backbone to ensure peak performance. Amid the proliferation of Big Data, virtual medicine and mobile health care applications common in today’s health care landscape, it’s the high-performance network that is foundational to building an effective health care IT delivery chain.

This is why many healthcare organizations are turning to Ethernet. Ethernet’s blend of sheer capacity, security and scalability make it ideal to support mission-critical, data-intensive healthcare applications at much lower costs than older technologies such as legacy T1 lines.

When looking for an Ethernet network provider, health care IT professionals should choose one that offers a private fiber optic network with carrier-grade data and Internet services. Extra redundancy should be built into the network design to maximize availability. The network should also be robust enough to support multiple functions including the ability to provide seamless connectivity between data centers for disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Data should always be transferred securely over the Ethernet provider’s network and never over the public Internet.

Now is the time for health care IT professionals to re-evaluate their network infrastructure to make sure it’s set up to optimize application performance and strengthen collaboration among all of its users.

By partnering with a trusted Ethernet network provider to design and support advanced network solutions, health care organizations can more effectively manage their data requirements, prepare for future technologies and most importantly, provide more personalized and consistent patient care.

Shawn Adamson is vice president of Comcast Business in the Mile High Region. Her column originally appeared in the Electronic Healthcare Reporter.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the views of the individual authors.

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