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Covid-19 Forced Rapid Development in Technology. Were Our Networks Ready?

Contributors

Mary Swigart - Commercial Activation Leader, GE Heathcare

Recently, out of the blue, a neighbor called to pick my brain. He was struggling with internet connectivity issues on his home Wi-Fi network. With the entire family working and learning remotely, network performance problems had become painfully clear. He wanted to know what internet service provider (ISP) we were using and whether we were experiencing similar issues.

My husband and I are now both working from home. We spend our days collaborating with coworkers on Microsoft Teams and Skype. Our children are learning remotely using Zoom and Google Meet. I even take part in a workout program that is entirely virtual and streaming. On a given day, many of these things occur simultaneously. As it turns out, we use the same ISP as our neighbor. We pay for the same speed connection as he does. We live right across the street. And we are not having any issues.

This neighbor had heard that I work in an IT-related role. He was hoping that I could help him come up with some ideas for troubleshooting. We discussed the age of his modem and router hardware, whether speed and/or bandwidth was the issue, or if it could be the connection dropping due to interference. I asked if his Wi-Fi was available in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, what channel he was using, and what neighbors’ SSIDs were appearing when his computer did a scan. I suggested a few applications that he could use to analyze his network’s speed, bandwidth, and the wireless environment.

As the call ended, he thanked me for the information. But he sounded a bit overwhelmed. He told me that he might call his ISP. I agreed that might be a good idea and asked him to let me know if he had any more questions.

Network connectivity and performance issues are always complex- whether you are talking about a home network, a hospital, or any other large enterprise. When streaming data is delayed or stops completely, where do you begin to troubleshoot? Do you have the skills and tools you need to quickly isolate the root cause?

Anyone who relies on technology and internet connectivity in the healthcare industry could relate to my neighbor. He simply wants to get his work done, and for his kids to complete their schoolwork. While he is pretty tech-savvy, he is not a networking expert.

These challenges have become more common in the healthcare industry as the demand for virtual care and remote patient monitoring continue to increase. Real-time health data and clinical decision support require high fidelity streaming capabilities. Is the network capable of providing the necessary performance and bandwidth to support precision healthcare? The answer to this question is complex. Data may traverse multiple networks, multiple geographic sites, and to the cloud. When it does not arrive on time, when connectivity is unreliable, where can you begin to troubleshoot?

2020 changed the way we deliver healthcare. According to an article from Healthcare IT News, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced providers to change at a pace never before seen.

“Healthcare companies across the care continuum had to face new challenges, pushing them to rapidly learn, adapt and transform the way they deliver healthcare. As a result, the concept of “anytime anywhere care” has become mainstream, changing the rate at which we access healthcare forever.”

To better realize these goals in 2021, network infrastructure needs to be robust. Whether talking about our home network or a hospital network. Dr. Zafar Chaudry, Senior Vice President and CIO for Seattle Children’s, made this prediction about where his staff will focus over the next year. “As we evolve over the next 12 months, we will have to find and provide technical resources, skills, stability to infrastructure, access to our computer systems and any place any time as people work from home and coffee shops, etc. At the same time, to achieve that, I believe we are going to need a mixed delivery model for the future for us at Seattle Children’s. Some of those services will be provided by people employed by Children’s, some of those services will be provided through strategic partnerships with key IT vendors to then give us the holistic 24/7 coverage.”

Just like my neighbor deciding to call the ISP, healthcare organizations will need to decide whether to upskill their engineers and arm themselves with new tools, or to partner. To support the technological evolution caused by Covid-19, we must be able to visualize and measure network performance. When there is a problem, whether it is caused by latency or Wi-Fi interference, we should have solutions in place to alert someone and ensure prompt corrective action. At home this would enable us to better do our jobs. In hospitals, where there is always a patient on the other end of the connection, it would allow front-line healthcare workers to spend their time focusing on the patients rather than technology and our internet connection.