For Healthcare Organizations, Futureproofing Is Possible — and Necessary

Posted on: September 23, 2016

written by

Evan Wade

There’s no question that technology can be a complex topic for healthcare decision-makers. Take the act of laying out a roadmap for future technology use, a feat so challenging that an estimated 50 percent of hospitals haven’t even done it, according to research from Frost & Sullivan. With world-changing advancements coming up fast, knowing what you want your organization’s technological near-future to look like is both a basic expectation and a quick path to severe decision fatigue.

Thus we have the idea of futureproofing, or implementing critical building blocks now to reduce hassle and complexity in the future. By anticipating organizational needs, hospitals and practices can build a flexible technological foundation that provides current-day utility and sets the table for tomorrow, all without handcuffing themselves to a given set of outcomes.

Stepping Stones: Storage

Of all the sure-bet technologies you might embrace, storage is undoubtedly the surest. Policy and procedure documents, emails, and EHR data have hospitals, practices, and organizations stuffing storage devices as fast as they can buy them. Moreover, at least half the data collected is unstructured, according to Health Data Management.

Unlike structured data, which comes with classification and reference points (e.g., success-rate statistics of patients in a given wing), unstructured data is more like a huge collection of free-form notes. This makes it difficult for the growing number of healthcare-focused big data solutions to work their number-crunching magic.

Fortunately, such solutions are getting better at pulling useful info from unstructured sources. In any event, the amount of data hospitals generate, collect, and ultimately need to store will keep ballooning, making upgrades to current storage capability now a smart move for utility and flexibility in the future.

One example: Virtualization tools compress and consolidate an organization’s existing storage drives and devices, “squeezing” out 10 to 30 percent more storage. They also increase storage-device performance and make device administration easier. This allows healthcare professionals, IT staff, and other employees to make better use of their time, all while paving the way for even greater storage needs in the near future.

Enhanced Networks Bring Enhanced Capabilities

Analytics and big data aren’t the only technologies with transformative potential for healthcare, though. The Internet of Things (IoT), a collection of small, inexpensive wireless devices that can monitor anything from ambient room temperature to patient drug use, is already shaking things up.

If you’ve read about the IoT, you’re probably at least a little excited about what it can do. In terms of preparation, however, it’s crucial to pay attention to network strain before dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of tiny sensors (temperature sensors, hand-hygiene monitors, wireless-connected thermostats and televisions … the list is effectively endless) latch onto the organization’s network. That’s especially true if your network is already slow or easily congested: If you can time your system speed by the number of guests in the hospital, for instance, it’s time to make a change.

Depending on your IT staff’s collective skills and expertise level, an outside consultant may be a good investment here. Dedicated experts can discover problematic network spots, determine future high-use areas, and help build a network suited to your specific needs. For hospitals with work to do in the roadmap department, they can also help you figure out what those needs might be.

That said, it bears repeating that the ability to support a broad number of devices is the first building block to future IoT flexibility. With the glut of connected devices coming down the pipe, it’s crucial to lay that block ASAP.

Preparing for Unknown Change: Centralize and Conquer

Other advancements are less cut-and-dry than the previous examples, but every bit as useful in the long run. Even if you don’t know exactly what the changes will be, you do know they’re coming — and you need to prepare for them.

This is another area where virtualization can shine. While virtualized storage makes it easier to hold massive amounts of data on the overall network, virtualized desktops are all about the end user. They make it possible to update, troubleshoot, install software on, and generally control end users’ computers from a central location.

Basically, think of an organization’s individual computers as people and desktop virtualization as a sort of hivemind: While the former have some ability to connect to “central control” (i.e., IT), the virtualized devices are run on powerful servers and “pushed” over the network to the computers people use on the front lines. Because all the processing is done on behind-the-scenes machinery, the organization saves money on device-processing power. They also realize significant savings on IT time, because many tasks that would normally require a “desk visit” from a staffer can be done locally, from the server room.

Hospitals and other large facilities, many of which shift computer equipment between rooms on a routine basis, could see particular benefits from this setup. Giving IT staff direct control of organization-owned machines without requiring physical access means making changes at the snap of a finger, relatively speaking; this could be a boon when updating against the latest malware or virus, or changing settings to reflect new rules and regulations.

Best of all, desktop virtualization is the perfect compliment for an organization concerned with futureproofing. A growing facility could provision a new fleet of laptops in hours instead of days, easily push a new EHR system (with department-specific configurations) to remote and local devices across all its locations, and make compliance-related changes in the blink of an eye.

Instead of preparing for a specific change, this concept improves your ability to pivot quickly and prepare for the future — no matter how far down your roadmap you are.  

Has your organization rolled out a roadmap for its technological future, or are you a part of the other 50 percent? Tweet us @bartonlocums.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is a professional writer, journalist, and editor based in Indianapolis. He has extensive experience in news, feature, and copy writing in the healthcare field, with specialties in technology, human-interest stories, and addiction science. Contact him on Twitter: @wadefreelance.

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