Electronic medical records – the healthcare industry’s three favorite words. Few initiatives have commanded as much attention from health CIOs and CFOs in recent years. Healthcare reform, the rise of value-based care, and federal mandates related to the meaningful use of electronic patient data have caused provider organizations everywhere to invest enormous amounts of management attention and capital on EMR deployments since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed.

In many cases, these deployments have not gone as planned, failing to enable effective data management and/or ending up requiring far more resources to implement and maintain than organizations had anticipated.

While the industry, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and EMR vendors are tackling the thorny issue of interoperability, provider organizations are adjusting to today’s post-EMR world and turning their attention to upgrades. That’s all fine and good, but what many fail to realize is that a high-performing EMR is impossible without a high-performing network. Just as a house is only as solid as the foundation upon which it was built, an EMR is only as good as the network through which the traffic flows.

A high-performing network is one that is agile, scalable and secure. Network automation can help in all three of these areas, and also represents enormous opportunity for IT teams that have been over-taxed in recent years with costly EMR installations and maintenance. When deploying, provisioning, operating and configuring data center networks are done manually, the process can be time-consuming and vulnerable to human error – not to mention expensive in terms of human capital.

It doesn’t have to be this way, however. Through the provisioning of virtual services in data centers, forward-looking IT departments are able to apply advanced automation tools and techniques to server and storage infrastructures. This level of automation enhances agility, accelerates deployments, increases reliability and improves the performance of critical business applications. It also makes for a lower cost structure, so IT departments can do more with less. They can retain their most highly skilled people and let them focus more on strategic initiatives and less on day-to-day maintenance of the network.

From a health IT perspective, EMR deployments often get all the glory. And to be fair, they’re critical for the information exchange/sharing and immediate delivery of patient data that improves process performance, quality of care and safety. For all their benefits, though, they remain just one piece of the overall puzzle. When IT leaders are determining how best to create value for their organizations, other infrastructure upgrades shouldn’t be neglected.

Consider this: for a baby born today, there will be more than 1100 terabytes (TB) of medical data stored over the course of his or her lifetime – and that data will need to be accessed by everyone up and down the value chain: doctors, nurses, insurance companies, diagnostic centers and the list goes on. An automated network infrastructure helps traffic move more quickly and smoothly between endpoints, so that providers and other stakeholders can access the data they need, when they need it.

Network automation may not be the most exciting IT initiative, or the type of project that lands CIOs in the headlines, but it’s a crucial step to ensure high performing EMRs and other applications. It also allows IT departments to use their resources in the most efficient way possible, while future-proofing their networks for the next generation of software and beyond.

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Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown is the Healthcare Practice Leader for Juniper Networks, an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks.