Best Practices

Best Practices: IT Management for Healthcare Services

As a network engineer working in the healthcare industry, you must ensure available, efficient, secure, high-performance systems that successfully assist in provision of care to patients and clients, effective tools and information for doctors and employees, and robust services for researchers and innovators.

The list of challenges faced by IT professionals in the healthcare sector continues to grow:

  • Compliance with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)
  • Compliance with the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act
  • Cost-cutting initiatives
  • The move from the current ICD-9 medical coding system to ICD-10 by Oct. 1, 2013
  • The implementation of electronic health record systems and electronic medical record systems
  • The increase of machine-to-machine transmission of health data
  • Growing adoption rates for mobile health devices
  • Constant emergence of new models of care

If you are looking for cost-effective ways to manage your infrastructure and protect access to key information, read on.

Best Practice #1: Know Your Infrastructure

Planned and unplanned changes happen all the time. New medical staff, disruptive technology like virtualization, additions of new sites or new hospital locations, mergers and acquisitions, purchasing of new hardware — they all introduce the need for a complete rediscovery of your infrastructure – a layer 2/3 discovery to inventory everything that’s running on your network.

After all, if you don’t know what you have running in your infrastructure, how devices in your network are connected, their interdependencies, and their locations, how simple can it be to locate problems and resolve them before the impact of a failure is realized? A layer 2/3 discovery is actually an eye-opener for many healthcare organizations since they discover pieces of hardware unaccounted for, or interdevice connections that they didn’t even know were there. Once you have a hardware inventory in place, you can use it for auditing or security-centric purposes, or simply to try to reduce costs by re-purposing unused resources.

Best Practice #2: Monitor Your Infrastructure

Once you have discovered what you have and how everything is connected, you should start monitoring health, availability and performance across all your network devices, servers, applications and virtual resources. In addition, continuous monitoring of the power supply and temperature of the server room is critical – in a hospital, medical equipment (i.e. magnetic resonance imaging systems, computer tomography, X-ray equipment, etc.) is equipped with computer systems and depends on network availability. Besides temperature, you should also monitor humidity patterns (remember, as long as you have an SNMP-compliant probe, WhatsUp Gold can monitor it!).

WhatsUp Gold can effectively monitor everything in the above table for you! Specifically use WhatsUp Gold and WhatsUp Gold WhatsVirtual to monitor, alert, manage and report across devices, systems and physical and virtual resources from a single console.

WhatsUp Gold’s powerful monitoring, alerting and notification capabilities, combined with custom dashboard views and over 200 reports, will give you the actionable intelligence to make smarter decisions faster, and keep your network infrastructure running smoothly.

Best Practice #3: Monitor Your Wired and Wireless Network Traffic

Did you know that the best way to resolve intermittent network performance problems and ensure quality of service is to analyze, understand and manage network traffic? After all, nearly 30% of the data stored on the world’s computers today are medical images, and this figure continues to increase. Similarly, the number of home health devices is climbing. With patients and remote doctors in multiple locations and accessing medical images regularly, it’s critical for IT professionals to go deep into network traffic and understand bandwidth utilization.

Look for a flow management solution that will let you analyze, alert and report on the different types of traffic traversing your network. This is how it works: each flow enabled router or switch (source) collects and aggregates information about traffic passing through it, and when configured to do so, transmits the information to a flow-enabled network management and monitoring system such as WhatsUp Gold Flow Monitor. In addition, built-in Wireless Infrastructure Management in WhatsUp Gold allows you to know where your wireless users are at all times and how much bandwidth they consume.

Best Practice #4: Automate Configuration Changes

Configuration management is often overlooked, but did you know that 60% of network outages and performance degradations are due to misconfiguration errors? As a network engineer in the healthcare sector, you spend a significant amount of time establishing and fine-tuning network devices’ configurations to ensure optimal network performance, protect sensitive patient data and secure networks from unauthorized users.

With sometimes hundreds of individual devices to manage and maintain, configuration changes are made almost continuously, and they are hard to track on an ongoing basis. Recreating a device configuration from scratch, or identifying what’s changed on a network, when, where, and by whom can be very difficult without a configuration management solution in place. The ability to rapidly react to a device failure or misconfiguration is vital not only in a sound network management strategy, but especially so when lives can depend on functioning X-ray equipment, diagnostic imaging systems and laboratory equipment in a hospital. The capability to download a backup to a new device or replace an existing file can mean the difference between a costly network outage and a healthy infrastructure.

With WhatsConfigured, you can do all of this. Use WhatsConfigured to automate network device configuration and change management processes, simplify your life, and eliminate human errors. With WhatsConfigured in place, you don’t have to perform repetitive and tedious manual configuration tasks, or troubleshoot misconfiguration issues in the dark. Plus, you can rest easy and save time with features such as nightly config backups, bulk config changes, complete audit trails, and real-time alerts triggered by configuration changes.

Best Practice #5: Effectively Monitor Your Virtual Environment

Chances are you are using virtualization at some capacity -- for cutting overhead through less hardware and improving ROI through consolidation of resources, among other benefits.

While it has many benefits, virtualization introduces a new set of challenges, including management complexity, security concerns, and lack of control, or virtual sprawl. Therefore, you need to look for a management tool that will allow you to discover, map, monitor and manage your virtual server environment exactly in the same way and from the same console as your physical server infrastructure, applications or network devices. Remember, in a virtualized world, you may be dealing with hundreds of virtual machines and physical servers. Operating in the dark (without knowing what is running on a physical server) is time-consuming and complex, making troubleshooting efforts much more difficult (and slower), and can severely increase MTTR (mean time to resolution). Plus, having an accurate physical to virtual mapping at all times will reduce the risk of virtual sprawl, or the rapid proliferation of virtual servers, since you can quickly visualize the specific VMs running on any physical server.

Best Practice #6: Consolidate All Alerts in a Central Locations

As you know, a network is comprised of any number of different single components, all designed and configured to work interdependently. It is this interdependency that is difficult to decode. As you build your infrastructure management strategy, you should look for ways to obtain a consolidated view of all alerts and problems occurring anywhere in your infrastructure, including performance issues, network traffic bottlenecks, bandwidth usage violations, hardware issues, configuration changes, and so on. That way, you’ll increase IT efficiency by ensuring better coordination in response procedures and knowing exactly what’s happening in your network. Plus, it’s easier to troubleshoot hard-to-resolve issues, such as a slow network or intermittent problems, when you have a unified view of all alerts and problems.

WhatsUp Gold includes a central Alert Center—a single integrated workspace that consolidates all alerts, notifications and alert acknowledgements across WhatsUp Gold and its plug-ins for easy configuration and management. That way, you can coordinate an alert response via acknowledgements and multiple levels of escalations, no matter the network location—a hardware problem, a performance bottleneck, a bandwidth usage violation or a misconfigured device.

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