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How Internet Outages Disrupt Healthcare

By Heath Russell
| | 7 min read

Summary

Healthcare has undergone an enormous digital transformation, driving business efficiency and making high-quality patient care more accessible. But the transformation's success is tied to the distributed infrastructure that supports it, and exceptional digital experience can be a lifesaver.


Healthcare has undergone an enormous digital transformation. Paper medical records are long gone. Replacing them, administrators throughout the industry have made electronic medical records (EMRs) or electronic health records (EHRs) the standard, which has required both a modernized WAN (Wide Area Network) and the adoption of cloud-based solutions.

Nevertheless, the use of health IT to provide health information to patients and caregivers is not just limited to hospitals and medical centers. The use of mobile and SaaS (Software as a Service) has become customary in the broader industry, as many health insurers depend on them to process claims and communicate medical plans with deductible data that tracks services rendered.

All this change has driven business efficiency among healthcare providers and allowed for the delivery of high-quality patient care that is more accessible. But the transformation's success is tied to the distributed infrastructure that supports it, including the Internet, as well as the reliability of an organization's ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and applications. Moreover, when it comes to healthcare, an exceptional digital experience can be a lifesaver.

Communication "Code Blue"

Having managed voice and messaging in hospitals, I will start by giving you some feedback from my own experience. I was once part of a 10,000-bed hospital. One time, I managed a Priority 1 issue where we had every phone sign out of its profile due to a certificate issue, causing them to become inactive because they were using the base profile instead of a role-based one.

The hospital had to fall back to 2-way radio typically reserved for "code blue" medical emergency or resuscitation teams. While this worked, the hospital failover created a period of confusion in communication between wards and emergency teams. This prevented patients from reaching a nurse or clinician within the mandatory time frame set by local regulations. The downtime also affected many of the lifeblood operations, such as the switchboard and pharmacy.

Following this period of outage, IoT (Internet of Things) that messaged out, such as vaccine fridges or smart medical equipment, had to all be re-calibrated and their contents disposed of. And while many systems have fallbacks like SRST (Survivable Remote Site Telephony), they could not work effectively as the hospital relies on role-based handsets that are handed to each nurse, doctor, security guard, or another provider during shift change.

The outage also impacted Spok messaging, a secure communication service used by doctors to share messages containing medical information about patients. It is commonly used, so if IT sees degraded service with Spok, doctors are having trouble communicating with one another.

Figure-1-healthcare-comms-digital-chain.png
Figure 1. Patient-to-provider communications at hospitals are reliant on an interdependent digital supply chain

Preventing Disappointment Among Policyholders

Healthcare insurance companies in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been at the forefront of digital transformation. For example, many insurers now offer applications that allow their members to upload invoices and prescriptions for medical expenses, providing added value by making it easy to file these claims.

In the future, health insurers will continue to focus on and expand their e-commerce and application offerings. Health insurers use these platforms to create demand for their products, and they increase lifetime customer value by making the overall experience of buying health insurance more enjoyable.

But what happens if a health insurer's online offering becomes unavailable? For example, say there was a disruption in the insurer's hybrid cloud environment. An event like this could cause members to lose access for an extended period. If the outage lasts long enough or happens during a sensitive moment, such as an emergency room visit, members may look for another insurer that offers a more seamless digital experience.

Diagnostics-as-a-Service and APIs

It is not just health insurers that are conquering the digital world. More and more private practices and hospitals are also turning to services based on the Internet, namely DaaS (Diagnostics-as-a-Service), to process healthcare data.

Imaging procedures, for example, are performed by specialized analysts and software companies located all over the globe. They analyze corresponding laboratory findings and transmit relevant diagnoses and conclusions through the cloud. Since traditional labs have been limited in the volume of data that can be pushed via their APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), DaaS holds the promise of quicker turnaround times for definitive diagnosis and screenings through more robust integrations to lab testing programs.

While health insurance companies lose customers in the event of an Internet outage or network malfunction, people may lose their lives should a critical diagnosis be delayed–hence why healthcare IT administrators must have the network and application insights to fix these disruptions quickly. ThousandEyes helps network operators by allowing admins to reduce the time it takes to identify and resolve incidents in minutes instead of hours.

In healthcare, time is the most crucial commodity and forms the foundation for a patient's treatment, recovery, and healing. Don't waste your time waiting for Internet connectivity or availability to resume. Let ThousandEyes help you smoothly implement your distributed infrastructure for top-notch patient care.

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