HIT Think

Why digital transformation must mesh with IT virtualization and the cloud

Healthcare organizations are creating value-based healthcare systems through digital transformation, a process that is key to implementing real-time healthcare systems (RTHS) to streamline workflows and enable clinicians and healthcare professionals to connect, communicate and collaborate more effectively.

As a result, it’s important to understand digital transformation and the value it brings to healthcare and RTHS is crucial to improving patient outcomes.

Digital transformation means adapting and evolving healthcare IT infrastructure to support the delivery of high-quality, real-time care. By adopting digital transformation tools and applying them to the healthcare environment, organizations can enable a more agile, flexible and cost-efficient RTHS for the benefit of patients.

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Digital transformation helps to create a value-based RTHS that emphasizes preventive care and health management, and encourages a move from volume-based models of care to outcome-based models. In the United States, it is estimated that in 2016 digital transformation contributed to higher-quality, real-time patient care while also saving as much as $300 billion in spending, or just over nine percent of the $3.3 trillion spent on healthcare, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Digital transformation also enables new and exciting innovations. For example, it enables patient electronic health records (EHRs) and medical data to be stored securely in the cloud and accessed anywhere by healthcare professionals. It also enables new telemedicine applications, such as remote health monitoring and patient virtual care. By harnessing smart medical devices, mobile connectivity and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), care is no longer restricted by location and can be delivered to patients at home and in the community.

Wearable and smart healthcare devices can be harnessed to gather basic consumer data that can be combined with clinical data to create comprehensive medical reports. Smartphone apps can present this information to help patients manage their condition and nudge them into making healthier lifestyle choices.

Furthermore, artificial intelligence can analyze accumulated patient data, identify health risk factors and recommend preventative treatments automatically.

While clearly beneficial, digital transformation also involves the complex task of embracing new technologies, such as virtualized IT, the cloud and re-architecting network infrastructure to support it.

Put simply, virtualization is a way of dividing physical IT resources, such as servers, storage and software, into multiple virtual—yet separate—environments. Then, an orchestration function ensures that virtual IT resources are allocated and balanced across applications and workloads as required. This system offers several benefits, including improved utilization of physical IT resources, more flexibility, greater efficiency and reduced costs.

In this way, the physical IT resources are hosted in data centers owned by the healthcare organization or by a third party. With a private cloud, these physical IT resources are virtualized and only available for use by the healthcare organization. On the other hand, a hybrid cloud combines IT resources in private cloud with IT resources that are available for use by other organizations.

However, virtualization ensures the healthcare IT environments are kept separate and secure from each other, even when the IT resources are shared. Ultimately, healthcare enterprises need to ensure they choose the right cloud environment to achieve the digital transformation that best suits their network and IT needs.

In this way healthcare organizations can maintain control and security of medical data and critical healthcare applications by running them in a private cloud. They can also run fewer critical applications in a hybrid cloud and use its resources when they need more capacity, agility and flexibility. This approach helps to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of healthcare IT.

Another step to effective virtualization of IT involves software-defined networking (SDN), which connects virtualized IT resources across data centers in the cloud by automating the network, allocating resources and balancing workloads across the virtualized IT environment. This is a more dynamic, manageable and adaptable approach that virtualizes the network to make it programmable. It also simplifies control and management of the network to make it more agile and responsive to the needs of virtualized IT and the cloud.

In healthcare, SDN offers many benefits. In addition to making IT more accessible and consumable, it provides policy-based automation of healthcare applications. This can be done through authenticating users and ensuring the correct security policies are applied when accessing patient EHRs, or by applying the right service level for telehealth monitoring applications.

Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) also offer a way to enable access to the virtualized IT environment from any healthcare location. SD-WAN builds a virtual network over the available physical network services and uses policies to select the best connectivity for the healthcare application that needs it.

For example, applications that access EHRs must use a private connection, while email can use a standard secure internet connection. Large hospital sites can use multiple physical connections for additional capacity, backup and resiliency.

SD-WAN supports network functions, such as routing, security and load balancing, that are virtualized in software and defined and deployed by a central policy manager. As a result, SD-WAN ensures agile and flexible connectivity for healthcare organizations while eliminating the complexity of traditional network services.

Healthcare organizations must undergo digital transformation to adapt and evolve their IT infrastructure to support the delivery of high-quality, real-time care. By enabling digital transformation with virtualization, cloud IT and innovative networking technologies, organizations can achieve an even more agile, flexible and cost-efficient RTHS for the benefit of patients.

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