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Health IT Infrastructure: Tips for Ensuring A Strong Networking and Technology Foundation

Author: Ismelda Garza, Consultant CIO

I have been in the healthcare IT industry for years, and I remember when network and hardware infrastructure were an afterthought, with healthcare facilities supported by a handful of servers. Things quickly changed when Meaningful Use came on the scene and healthcare IT went full speed ahead. Too many times, projects and applications were added to fragile, small infrastructures, even smaller existing networks, and staff lacked adequate skills and training to maintain it all. Although networks and infrastructure met requirements, they had not been designed with efficiency in mind.

Building a solid technology foundation for patient care

Today’s technology is a completely different story. Hospital operators and clinical staff rely on technology to deliver patient care and to help improve patient outcomes. The foundation upon which healthcare technology is built includes these components: backup strategy, network infrastructure, hardware infrastructure, cable management, and identity and provisioning management.

If last year’s pandemic, natural disasters, security threats, and new retail provider competition taught us anything, it is that these technical components must be designed and implemented with maintenance, growth and the unforeseen in mind. If the network loses connectivity, then what is the impact on the backup data? How reliable is the backup data in the case of an outage? Are all appropriate assets patched to limit exposure to ransomware and malware attacks? And could a lone cable be the cause of a frustrating and delayed troubleshooting process? A comprehensive and strategic technology foundation is essential to support the delivery of patient care.

Thinking strategically about network infrastructure

As healthcare continues to change so do the needs of your network. Here are a few questions to keep in mind as you evaluate the health of your network infrastructure and technical operations.

  • Are you following a 3-2-1 backup strategy?
  • Do you have a map with specific locations of all discoverable devices and/or an inventory of all technology assets? And if not, how long would it take to inventory all the assets, installed software versions, and device locations for your network?
  • Is your infrastructure able to grow with your changing needs quickly and efficiently?
  • Is your organization prepared for a ransomware attack?
  • Are your IT members setting the example and teaching employees and staff about security best practices?
  • Are your team members highly skilled and appropriately trained to maintain and grow your technical infrastructure?

A strong understanding and proactive stance on technical configurations are important to ensuring the network is backed up, stable, and available. For example, IT professionals should understand how their IDF locations are connected to their MDF locations so they can be more confident about primary backups being complete and available. However, if you are unsure if you have primary backups, you may need help mapping out a plan for Disaster Recovery or a 3-2-1 backup strategy. Or, you may need help with cable management so technicians can troubleshoot issues quickly and ensure clinicians and care teams can access the healthcare technology they use to enable patient care.

Providing tools to better understand your network

Through years of experience, we have a number of best practices and tools we provide our clients so they can deliver health IT more effectively and efficiently. Education is also a huge part of what we do to help stakeholders understand how improving networks, replacing aging hardware, establishing steadfast backup processes, taking an inventory of technology assets, and addressing cable management issues can improve application stability and ultimately hospital operations.

Below are some practical tips to help your organization deliver the kind of healthcare technology that makes a difference in patient care:

Backups

  • Validate backups and the location of backups. If backups don’t exist, users have no data to effectively do their job.
  • Include a Disaster Recovery solution in your incident plan. The cloud or second backup device should reside in a secondary location. The important point about Disaster Recovery — hospital operations can continue with data, even if the data is four hours behind, but hospital operations are much more difficult without any data.
Network connectivity
  • Perform scheduled reviews of the network.
  • Ensure security patches and updates are current and regularly scheduled.
Hardware infrastructure
  • Perform regularly scheduled review of hardware infrastructure.
Cable management
  • Label critical equipment in MDF and IDF closets clearly.
Identity and provisioning management
  • Perform regular reviews of installed software, versioning, and users. Often this process reveals unused licenses and devices that need to be decommissioned, which ultimately results in cost savings.

Looking ahead

Do you have a way to address flexibility, accessibility, and performance routinely for your technical infrastructure to keep up with the change? One of our best practice uses an electronic IT asset discovery tool that speeds the inventory of IT infrastructure, versioning, and licensing so you have accurate, location-based data for all discoverable devices and technology assets. We can help you comprehensively evaluate your current infrastructure so you can build a strategic roadmap and a strong technology foundation for the future.

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