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A Healthy Dose of SDN

Aug 29, 2016
Sue Kim - gu
Sue Kim - gu About the author

The digital world is transforming healthcare, and SDN is proving to be just what the doctor ordered. 

A Healthy Dose of SDNOver the past decade, healthcare has undergone significant change by digitizing every aspect of hospital infrastructure, including patient records, medical devices, prescription ordering, and patient/physician communication. If you are like me, you can recall going to the doctor and having your temperature checked with a mercury thermometer. Then you would wait and wait until it registered your temperature. Digital thermometers used today can read a human’s temperature in seconds without ever making physical contact with a patient’s body.

However, change can be scary, and any change will inevitably raise concerns. Digitizing healthcare is no different. Healthcare data is highly desirable for hackers, and the stakes are high. These security concerns have merit – we’ve heard of recent attacks on healthcare organizations such as Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, which was forced to pay over $17,000 to ward off a ransomware attack. But SDN can help in a number of ways.

Patient Records and Monitoring

In the old days, the doctor would come into the exam room with a file detailing your entire medical history. Today, thanks to computers, physicians are able to access all of your records, prescribe medicine, and evaluate lab results digitally.

While digitizing records is a natural progression for the industry, there is more concern that this sensitive personal information could fall into the wrong hands through a cyberattack. Patient data must be reliably delivered to the monitoring control system, even when the patient is moving within the hospital from one appointment to the next. Modern patient monitoring endpoints support both wired and wireless connectivity, and maintain connection with the monitoring system controller when switching from wired to wireless, then back.

The threats of cyberattacks and the need for a flexible access and secure way to move data have found their health remedy – the prescription is SDN. SDN is needed for patient data security as well as the agility required to move the data from endpoint to endpoint. The SDN controller detects when a patient monitoring endpoint connects to the network. Forwarding entries are loaded into the network switches that allow the endpoint to connect only with the patient monitoring controller. The monitoring endpoint can be connected anywhere in the SDN switch network, since the SDN controller will automatically identify the endpoint and connect the ingress interface to the corresponding virtual network, providing reliability, mobility, and security.

Unified Communication

Voice and video communications are critical in healthcare. With this technology, physicians can video conference a patient, providing a virtual exam in the comfort of the patient’s home. This type of technology alleviates the need for a patient to drive to the hospital and lets them avoid waiting rooms. This service is also hugely beneficial to patients in rural areas and those who are unable to leave their homes by themselves for various reasons. It is bringing healthcare to people who didn’t have easy access to it previously.

In order for this service to be offered and function properly, a healthcare provider needs consistent and reliable connectivity and proper Quality of Service (QoS). Static configurations work well for dedicated phones, both wired and wireless. However, static identification of voice calls from soft phones running on a computer or a mobile device are difficult to identify. This is the scenario in which SDN is paramount in order for the UC controller to tell the network of the voice (or video) call to configure itself to handle the call.

Mergers and Acquisitions

As stated by PwC’s report Top Health Industry Issues for 2016, “2016 is the year of merger mania.” A critical aspect of healthcare partnerships is the ability to consolidate systems while maintaining seamless communication throughout the organization. Traditional networks can be difficult to consolidate, as each network device can contain hundreds of configurations that need to be changed. SDN provides the ability to abstract network policy from network devices, eliminating device level configuration and providing an open networking model for consolidation.

These are only three areas where SDN can help improve quality of care and protect patient data: SDN offers flexibility and functionality that static network configurations can’t; the changes taking place within the healthcare industry make it a perfect environment for SDN to really thrive; and we will continue to see more healthcare SDN deployments as the industry becomes further digitally connected. SDN is just what the doctor ordered for healthcare networks.

- Don Clark, Director, Business Development, NEC

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Sue Kim - gu