Innovation in Healthcare and Life Sciences
In This Article
WWT partnered with Tim Waters, from Equinix, to author this article.
It is no secret that the era of transformation and exponential growth in healthcare is here. We can see the huge impact this change is creating for health providers with disruptions affecting firms across the industry. A key shift is an increased emphasis on patient-centric care and more intelligent use of data for better patient outcomes. With these demands, organizations are experiencing uncertainty, cost pressures and increasing complexity.
The life sciences and healthcare industry are facing added pressures to innovate and minimize development cycles. Smaller organizations are finding that small footprints of IT infrastructure are sprawling without oversight, control and operational management. Additionally, large organizations are faced with declining revenue. In light of all of this, healthcare and life sciences organizations remain pressed to modernize information systems, secure their growing number of devices and users accessing their network while providing new digital capability to remote clinicians and patients. They’re also asked to leverage and migrate to the cloud, include AI and ML, and share data securely across health ecosystems.
The digital transformation dilemma
Adopting a pragmatic approach to modernizing an organization's infrastructure is about placing the appropriate workload in the appropriate location based not just on the proposed effectiveness and efficiency, but on the initial CAPEX and ongoing OPEX costs as well. Life sciences and healthcare organizations have modernized and grown both organically and by acquisition, the network connectivity between applications most likely did not share in these modernization efforts because the infrastructure is “working” and is often overlooked.
There is a consequential, real and ongoing probability that these organizations are paying for short and long-term performance and requirements that are not being met. But how much money has been spent already? How much should you spend on digital transformation efforts? Which initiatives should garner the most focus?
You can sum all of these questions into one singular interrogative: what should be my digital transformation strategy? This question is the hardest one to address, but the answers will drive the transformation forward and address where you will need to focus.
With Equinix, our customers can take the first step in identifying the cost benefits of network optimization through a current and future state architecture review, including Equinix connectivity options.
Electronic medical/health records (EMR/EHR) and imaging on platform Equinix
In symphony with performing a cost benefit analysis on a strategic transformed target state, the second major hurdle to leap will be the core EHR application — this is literally the life blood of the hospital and must be treated with kid gloves. It is also the single largest consumer of IT budgets in hospital systems and requires the most skills to operate and maintain properly. It’s a massive headache for health delivery organizations, but the headaches don’t stop there as most EHRs are accessed by life sciences and payer organizations as well.
Hospitals require their EHR to be maximally accessible, always up and never hacked. This is a tall order, but with the right solution and strategy, it can be achieved. To alleviate this headache, many hospitals are turning to hosted solutions for their core EHR application, which alleviates the problem of ongoing systems management, monitoring and a dearth of EHR skills.
Hosting electronic health, medical and/or medical imaging in an Equinix data center helps customers reduce the hardware, software and services cost. Additionally, it can also help reduce the installation and management costs. Increasing speed of access to data and improvement of health care through EHR can decrease the cost of health care.
One benefit of the Equinix platform is scalability. In a joint WWT and Equinix workshop, our customers can work through scalability scenarios where current and future cloud-based resources can be architected for multiple states of resource consumption. This is a significant benefit and can provide on-demand resources when needed without a significant hardware CAPEX.
Another benefit provided by the Equinix partnership is our end-to-end capability. Together we offer demonstrable value. For example, consolidation of services and interoperability are two top of mind concerns our customers always have. While some cloud providers may have strengths in hosting, or storage and compute for high-resolution images, another cloud provider may have strengths in data mining services, analysis and patient’s electronic records. The critical issues here are interoperability, consolidation of multiple services and expertise in each of these practices including integration, artificial intelligence, machine learning and consulting.
For example, medical data from various sources of record requires a significant degree of data interoperability. Most information systems storing clinical information about patients are in proprietary formats. The interoperability of these EHR systems benefits the patient’s care both effectively and efficiently by facilitating retrieval and processing of clinical information from various locations. The transmission of the patient’s information automatically between care sites, be it locally or through private peering, promotes exceptional performance and cost efficiencies within Equinix.
Delivering on the three rights — right information, right time and right place — are critical outcomes for clinicians.
Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health launched a digital transformation strategy to connect patients to its healthcare providers in a more frictionless manner, whether the patient was in a hospital bed or at home. Sentara’s investment in a modern digital infrastructure prepared them for the high volumes of patient connections to its online Sentara and Optima Patient Portal and telemedicine platforms during the pandemic.
Moving 100 percent of its business operations from on-premises to Equinix coupled with multiple clouds helped Sentara facilitate the fast and secure transfer of patient data to the cloud for data analytics and artificial intelligence. Sentara can now use cloud analytics services and compute instances in the public cloud to run applications that can analyze its data to figure out actionable insights.
By centralizing its redundant VMware SD-WAN VeloCloud backbone on Platform Equinix, Sentara significantly improved its resiliency with no network outages. Sentara significantly lowered its latency, seeing application response times go from 20 milliseconds (ms) down to four milliseconds, even with a 500 percent increase in greater home interconnectivity over its network to its patient portal.
Security, private peering and protected health information (PHI)
Healthcare and life sciences cybersecurity continues to be stretched, as evidenced by recent events. Continuously stressed, an extra layer of uncertainty specific to security exists for medical providers, clinical trial and pharmaceutical companies. In addition, standard security practices combating phishing and ransomware attacks have plagued both industries compromising thousands of medical records.
The increased use of mobile devices and wearables has also made it exponentially more difficult to secure patient data. There is a valid concern when sharing sensitive patient information. How can you make it both safer and less exposed to risk? This issue can be addressed by leveraging a globally distributed interconnection platform that allows for secure data sharing through private peering and digital services integrated inside the health care life sciences (HCLS) ecosystem. The enormous amount of existing patient data is starting to get digitized by public hospitals, nursing homes, private clinics or pathology labs — unfortunately in an uncoordinated and, at times, chaotic (let alone reactive) way.
A recurring topic is security and privacy of data in the storage location and during the data exchange. Continuously protecting the privacy of data in a cloud environment requires a strong security posture. Based on HIPPA security standards, cloud environments maintain a privacy of health data. Encryption and decryption, such as character-based encryption, unique encryption, public and private key encryption, the combination of a private and public key encryption strategy, symmetric, authentication, anonymization and digital signature are just some examples of security at rest or in transit. Private peering obviates the need to send data over the public Internet, where private interconnection is used to send data point-to-point, and also between cloud providers.
Handling patient data, unlike standard business data, requires more than simple statistical modeling and analytics. What this type of data requires is a robust security posture that can securely connect numerous patient databases. The foundation for a mature, streamlined and secure healthcare data exchange must contain interconnectivity, security, storage, compute, software and governance.
Migrating data and workloads requires personnel with hands-on experience in key areas, such as:
- Application, platform, network, data and infrastructure migration.
- Cutting-edge and proven technologies and automated tooling.
- Delivering risk-free migration (meaning zero data loss or security lapses and minimal downtime).
- Identifying the best options for digital transformation.
Unfortunately, few companies employ personnel with the right skills, expertise, technical know-how and tools needed to successfully perform migrations on their own. In most cases, we recommend finding a trusted technology partner experienced in cloud strategy, migration and optimization to plan and execute your migration initiatives. This partner should employ best practices and posses a proven track record of successful projects.
When it comes to migrating applications, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Taking the time to identify the right migration strategy will save you time and money in the long run. Your migration strategy should be tailored to the goals, talent pool, fiscal requirements and technological capabilities of your organization, as well as any unique limitations of your operating environment. Don't be one of the life sciences or health care organizations who skimps on migration strategy and planning, only to be forced to revisit it when something goes awry during migration.
Ultimately, the success of any migration is measured by user adoption and consumption. That means the proficiency of employees who will use the new instances should influence your choice of migration strategy. Moreover, business leaders would be smart to consider the needs and preferences of stakeholders across departments before locking in a particular migration strategy. Input from a diverse group can optimize downstream migration design, implementation, adoption, consumption and monitoring phases.
Lastly, as a part of our migration capability we strongly recommend reviewing your technology and business processes and practices to identify any that are obsolete or should be updated when applications and workloads are finally domiciled.
The demand for expanding secure patient-centric care and data-driven innovation to improve health outcomes is resulting in a new focus on digital transformation, making healthcare an exciting industry. Health delivery organizations, payers and life sciences companies all have a stake in improving patient outcomes and care. Opportunities for investments in new digital value chains and personalized ecosystems of care delivery have emerged. The road to transformation is not without its challenges, however. Requirements to maintain regulatory compliance and patient health standards demand low risk solutions, slowing cloud and digital adoption.
To address these challenges and transform, WWT and Equinix are helping healthcare and life sciences leaders establish a competitive advantage on the Equinix global platform. They can simultaneously meet growing demands for agile, patient-centric services, reduce costs while expanding capabilities closer to users and launch new services that will maximize patient outcomes, insights and innovation — now and in the future.