The global pandemic has thoroughly changed the delivery of healthcare in the United States and created new challenges for facility managers in this industry. With the advent of nationwide quarantines, healthcare systems managers have taken a hard look at their ability to deliver telehealth solutions with their existing IT systems and infrastructure. The results have been mixed.
The problem is one of unexpected demand. Industry research has found that telehealth claim lines increased more than 4,000 percent nationally from March 2019 to March 2020. It’s not an exaggeration to say Covid-19 created a new healthcare delivery model virtually overnight.
To meet the sudden demand for telehealth services, the federal government relaxed some HIPAA regulations around the use of platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and Whatsapp. This didn’t eliminate the responsibility that health systems have to maintain patient privacy; it just eliminated some hurdles to get there.
Telehealth presents IT challenges for hospitals and health systems already in the midst of an industry-wide shift to distributed delivery models. These systems have to accommodate not just patient check-ins via Zoom; they also must support data-intensive applications such as MRIs and CT scans.
For these dispersed healthcare facilities to meet these challenges and deliver on the promise of telehealth, a few common considerations have emerged.
Healthcare sites at the edge of the network have become mission-critical, making availability — and therefore an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system — non-negotiable. Smaller, single-phase UPS systems have become more common as a means to support smaller IT deployments. UPS systems with lithium-ion batteries make sense in these small, distributed locations due to their smaller footprint and longer runtime and lifespan. Lithium-ion batteries have become more affordable as more critical facility or data center managers make the switch from valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries and see the return on investment in a single refresh.
Backup power isn’t the only consideration in a more critical healthcare edge location. More equipment means more heat, and dedicated IT cooling is needed to ensure availability in those spaces.
Even with relaxed HIPAA regulations to enable the increased demand for telehealth, security remains paramount for hospitals and healthcare systems. The physical security of IT is critical, putting a premium on secure racks. And data security requires a variety of IT peripherals, such as gateways, console servers, and KVM switches that segregate and protect patient data while ensuring seamless networking between systems.
Prioritizing security isn’t just good practice, it’s good business. A hardened network allows a physician or staff member to conduct a telehealth conference call with a patient and seamlessly switch to an insurance provider’s website to find contact information or confirm coverage. These are important safeguards for patient privacy and key details in ensuring a positive patient experience.
These changes in service delivery that require new IT infrastructure coincide with the newfound awareness of capacity — an awareness that was often lacking in the healthcare space. Healthcare system leaders are pressed to make informed decisions about their IT infrastructure once they have done their homework to establish both short-term and long-term needs. Building an IT system with scalability in mind eliminates waste and reduces costs.
Finally, a centrally located hospital may have a dedicated IT support team on site, but most distributed facilities typically do not. That may be the first essential decision for edge network administrators — choosing an equipment vendor and service team that can provide the expertise needed to configure, deploy, and maintain equipment quickly and efficiently.
Thanks to the pandemic-driven shift to the usage of remote and dispersed healthcare facilities, the managers of these networks are suddenly in the hot seat. The world has come to their doorstep, demanding higher performance and higher speed, resulting in a much higher level of complexity. The more these managers can anticipate to help their teams prepare for this paradigm shift, the better.
To get better prepared, download Vertiv’s white paper titled Telehealth and the Edge of the Network: Infrastructure Considerations for Remote Patient Care.