Healthcare SysAdmins haven’t just taken the concept of digital transformation to heart—they’re one of its largest proponents. Quality care improves patient outcomes, so healthcare organizations have embraced the idea of highly connected and digitally enhanced environments to help deliver that care.

But while healthcare might often be at the forefront of the digital transformation and tech adoption wave, that doesn’t mean the process isn’t fraught with challenges. One major challenge is finding a way to manage all the disparate healthcare networks effectively, and in one place.

A quick look at a typical healthcare IT network

typical healthcare IT network
Source: Help Net Security

Healthcare networks have to juggle a lot of different IT systems. For example, a health care provider’s internal IT network at just one hospital can include separate networks and related data for patient care and rooms, nursing and surgery centers, diagnostics, labs, pharmacies and business areas. They must also support various essential business functions external to the network, such as insurance, billing and remote consultations, and provide patients and visitors with access to internet-enabled services.

Now, duplicate this network model to each of the hospitals within a health care network, and then ensure that whole network can seamlessly connect to other heatlh care provider networks. It’s an extremely interconnected web where everything has to work together.

Health information exchange

Hospitals often have to work with (and share) data among departments but also with external providers. For example, healthcare professionals need data from labs to make accurate diagnoses, and must share data with pharmacies to ensure the right medication is sourced for a patient. In light of this, The Health Information Exchange (HIE), with its associated interoperability standards, was introduced. HIE enables the electronic transfer of clinical data among diverse and distributed networks securely. Exchanges are typically managed by geographic regions. The goal is to make it easy for health professionals to access always up-to-date patient care records they need to do their jobs effectively.

Interoperability standards make it easy for the data to be transferred from one system to another by ensuring they “speak” a common language so that any device from any vendor will work on the network. Even the markup language used must be standardized to ensure any medical professional, on any system, can access patient data.

What are challenges healthcare networks face?

As with networks in just about any industry, there are universal challenges to managing the network. In healthcare, networks tend to have to deal with a broad range of devices (including the IoMT) of varying security, along with the networks themselves being distributed in nature. But unlike other industries, the end goal isn’t to maintain profits or sales, it’s the quality of patient care that cannot be compromised on.

As a result, healthcare IT teams look at pressures in a particular way:

  • Staff rely on networks to access patient records and diagnostics, making it otherwise difficult to prescribe and administer the right treatment. In an emergency, the risk of administering the wrong treatment could be high.
  • Many of the life-saving devices in hospitals, such as IoMT sensors, rely on the network to relay monitoring data to healthcare professionals when it’s needed.
  • These systems’ networks are also often siloed, and not just by function (patient care, administrative, etc.), but sometimes by department. Location is also an issue, since many hospitals are spread out over multiple campuses and clinics.
  • Healthcare networks are regularly formed by mergers and acquisitions of other area healthcare organizations. Integrating disparate IT networks brings with its own list of compatibility challenges.
  • Many of the devices used in hospitals have a significant lifespan, with some diagnostic equipment in service as long as 20 years, adding yet another host of compatibility and security issues.
  • Hospital networks also have to handle poorly secured devices from multiple vendors brought in by patients, visitors, and staff, while ensuring that vital traffic from within the hospital is prioritized and secure.

Managing all these systems and locations tends to lead departments to adopt a patchwork of applications that don’t necessarily work together efficiently, and become difficult to keep track of. IT staff can end up overwhelmed, buried under time-consuming manual monitoring processes that are frequently incomplete and outdated.

In short, healthcare network monitoring and management solutions need to help staff effectively monitor all the vital aspects needed to maintain their overall network health across all their networks at once, and quickly deal with issues as they arise.

Sounds undoable, right?

Effective healthcare network solutions need effective network visbility

Trying to do distributed network management using multiple applications that can’t communicate with each other should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Not only does it mean that IT staff have to deal with a lot of time-consuming manual processes, but it also increases the risk of failures and downtime.

Your solution for these situations has to be able to reach past the typical barriers that prevent you from seeing everything on the network in one place, especially when it comes to disparate and distributed networks. Finding one isn’t as hard as you might think, but you do need to know what to look for.

Multiple collectors that can gather data from all your networks and subnets

“Effective network visibility” to us means having all your network data at your fingertips, rather than having to sift through multiple applications to find different details across different networks. With Auvik, for example, we deploy a simple application, the Auvik collector, to help achieve this level of device discovery and inventory. When you first set up Auvik, the collector will scan your network and find all the subnets it can access. For additional subnets on a network in a different location, you simply need to deploy an additional collector in that location.

You can also have multiple collectors on the same network for failover. Then, should one collector have an issue, another will kick in immediately.

Deploying multiple collectors in Auvik is easy. And it’s all viewable from one central dashboard, solving one huge problem: bringing in all the device data from all those separated networks into one place. Just make sure to provide your collectors with descriptive names, so you can tell what their role is and what network and subnets they’re assigned to at a glance.

screenshot showing geographical map with multiple locations

Managing multiple sites from a single dashboard

A single healthcare monitoring solution sounds great, but sometimes you might need to segment your network monitoring data—whether to adhere to your security policy, or simply for practical reasons. As you’ve seen, some networks can be so large and complex that it falls to various teams to monitor different areas. Being able to create multiple site maps can keep the information flow clean for your teams, and help to satisfy any security and access concerns you may have.

Multiple networks spread out across various locations can become a nightmare. Network monitoring software worth your investment should enable you to easily manage every site, no matter how many there are, or where they are located. You can have multiple networks in the same building, with more spread out over the city, country, or even globe, and manage them easily from a single dashboard.

Some things to consider when building out multiple maps are:

  • How will collectors be deployed? Will multiple collectors be used, a single shared collector, or a hybrid model?
  • How many site maps will be created?
  • Will the deployment be divided by physical location or other attributes, such as department or network segment?

IT admins should be able to easily see all the network locations they are responsible for on a map, as well as at a glance performance metrics and availability.

In addition, your software should include some kind of notifications to make it even simpler to identify any device, on any network, that is experiencing problems. In Auvik, we coupled this with device inventory across all networks and locations from a central location. If you discover an issue, you don’t have to spend excessive amounts of time tracking down the trouble spot by digging into each network and location individually. Stop jumping from app to app trying to zero in a problem device that may or may not be on that network. You should see all this data in a single centralized dashboard.

Vendor agnostic solutions that make for easy legacy equipment management

When taking into account the significant investment hospital equipment represents (no hospital can just throw out old, but functioning, MRI machines just because they’re old), and the organic growth of your networks over time, hospitals become notorious for legacy devices, which can be a challenge for any network to handle. Adding to your network with different vendors from different time periods, and the situation escalates from challenging to downright horrendous. We don’t all have the luxury of building that ideal, standardized network from scratch!

So instead of using multiple portals to manage all the devices on a network, for example, IT staff should be able to turn to a unified management pane, coupled with the ability to remotely log in to many vendor CLIs, to provide both the data and control needed for effective management of most devices. Make sure your montioring solution is compatible with the wide range of devices you’re going to be asking to keep an eye on. It also eliminates the need to gain familiarity with a slew of differing vendor languages. Productivity increases as complex tasks are simplified, and can be handled by any of your techs.

A single healthcare network monitoring system is one of the most effective solutions for improving the management of distributed and diverse networks, and creating a unified healthcare network, even on a global scale.

Auvik provides all the data necessary to manage multiple sites in one centralized view but is also flexible enough to allow for the creation of multiple site maps. In other words, it eliminates the need for numerous disparate apps, reduces delays, and improves troubleshooting efficiency.

Ready to see for yourself? Get your free 14-day Auvik trial here.

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