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Martin Hodgson, head of UK & Ireland, Paessler AG on the importance of being on the front foot for healthcare IT.

Following the rapid international transmission of COVID-19, private and public healthcare organisations have been put under intense pressure to protect the ill and vulnerable. COVID-19 has had the greatest impact of a virus in recent history.

Hospitals are having to deal with the strain of not only extra work related to COVID-19, but also the normal flow of ailments and wellbeing issues as faced by any healthcare organisation.

Ultimately, an overburdened healthcare system has negative knock-on effects. The ONS also found that reduced access to treatment or no treatment had a negative impact on 42% of the UK’s health.

Efficiency is more important than ever. It’s no longer about long-term infrastructure plans, or changes by 2030 or 2040 – it needs to happen now.

Outmoded systems, such as those in IT, keep healthcare professionals from focusing on the medical task at hand.

For these mission-critical IT systems to run, which help track everything from the ground up, from patient treatment pathways to drug trials research and development, healthcare cannot afford for the network to crash.

Joining up the healthcare dots with ITAs with many industries, the healthcare sector has seen a rapid phase of digitalisation, with new connected medical devices intertwining patient treatment with IT infrastructure that was traditionally separate from day to day healthcare practice.

There can be no doubt this has boosted efficiencies and had a positive impact on patient care.

However, digitalisation comes with a catch. With so many new connected devices, today’s hospital IT networks have more potential points of failure than ever before.

This is where integration engines come into play, so that medical professionals can keep critical data saved in a hub, and it can be accessed by multiple people spread across the healthcare organisation.

As with any information system, the storage and transfer of data is at the heart of all healthcare IT systems.

Most if not all medical IoT devices rely on data and information being readily available through various points in the hospital network.

For example, a radiologist will routinely require access to patient imaging records in order to review scans that have been automatically uploaded to the system by an MRI machine.

To facilitate this degree of connectivity, most hospitals have what is called an integration engine.

This is a central IT communications hub that securely stores and distributes information and data where and when it is needed.

Think of the integration engine as the hospital’s central nervous system, facilitating all communications across the network.

In larger hospitals the integration engine will work with several other independent data systems such as the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), Radiology Information System (RIS) and Laboratory Information System (LIS) to ensure all data is secured in the correct areas of the network.

What can IT admins do to manage the medical system? When it comes to mission critical IT systems, the key to success is visibility.

With so many potential failure points, hospital IT staff need to be on constant look out for any potential faults and often be able to solve issues before any disruption can occur.

When it comes to hospital operations and patient care, the stakes for successful fault management could not be any higher.

However, that’s not to say everything and anything should be monitored.

Rather, IT admins should focus their attention to four key areas of hospital infrastructure.

1. Digital medical devices
Medical devices are now connected and able to send and receive data through the network. The benefit of this is that these devices can be monitored over that same network. The catch? Medical devices do not offer the same possibilities for monitoring as other IoT devices, so you will need a monitoring tool with specific functionality for monitoring these devices.

2. The integration engine
The integration engine is the communications hub for the entire network. Therefore, it is imperative to watch it closely. Thankfully most integration engine servers offer API’s that can be used to easily retrieve and monitor server performance.

3. Communication between medical systems
Unless connected devices are able to communicate with the integration engine, they may as well be switched off entirely. IT admins need to keep a close eye on how devices communicate and ensure they are using the correct protocols. In the case of hospital IT this requires a monitoring tool that is capable of understanding medical specific protocols such as DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) and HL7 protocols.

4. Traditional IT
When getting stuck into new and exciting medical devices, it is important to ensure the bread-and-butter devices that support medical systems such as routers, switches and servers aren’t overlooked.

A server failure or network crash can be just as catastrophic as critical failure in a medical device. For this reason, it is important to be able to quickly analyse metrics from traditional IT devices alongside the metrics from medical devices.

In the case of an error, this allows IT staff to locate and solve the problem within the rapid time-frame required.

Medical professionals constantly rely on digital systems to access patient medical records, efficiently understand patient needs, to triage these patients and then to update their records with new information and developments that may occur.

Paper records are liable to physical damage and loss – they are not logged pieces of data, so cannot be mined for insight or used for data analysis where critical issues can be flagged by software, such as whether a patient is meeting care pathway referral checkpoints.

The importance of these IT systems cannot be underestimated, as they alleviate stress when designed and utilised correctly, and keep medical professionals focused on the task at hand rather than administration.

This is why it’s so critical that IT admins can keep these digital systems up and running, because if they crash or overload, lives are on the line.

Healthcare is an industry that has one of the most immediate and closest reliance on IT, so it’s key that IT admins have the right tools to keep systems like integration engines robust when transferring valuable data between professionals, departments and organisations.

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