Louie Caschera, chief information officer of CareTech Solutions (www.caretech.com), says:

Top issues facing healthcare enterprises today include application demand and application access, as well as cost containment and quality of service.

Application Demand
As healthcare providers utilize and depend on clinical applications such as computerized physician order entry (CPOE) and electronic medical record (EMR) systems as tools to help provide better and safer patient care, the demand to have these applications available to them around the clock increases. To meet and support this demand, the data center delivering these applications would require uninterruptible service.

One approach to resolving these issues centers on partnering with an IT outsourcing company such as CareTech Solutions that provides managed IT services and delivery solutions to meet these demands. A second approach would involve hosting a critical application in an existing data center that is built with an uninterruptible infrastructure, meaning that the facility never goes down. At the system level, where the application resides and runs, the system itself should be configured to be highly available by utilizing technologies such as virtualization, clustering and SANs. At the network level, the network itself should be fully redundant to ensure delivery of the application and patient information. This includes leveraging redundant cores with diverse and redundant communication paths capable of delivering the applications (via Citrix) to the caregiver’s device.

Application Access
Increasingly, caregivers are requiring access to their critical clinical applications and patient information not only whenever it’s needed, but wherever it’s needed. This requires a robust networking infrastructure capable of securely delivering the clinical-application and patient information to the caregiver no matter where they are.

If a caregiver is roaming through a hospital (or off-site) and needs access to a critical application to retrieve patient information, an access device must be available, (be it a laptop or PDA, or a hospital’s workstation or laptop on the floor).

In order to accommodate application access from wherever it’s needed, you will need supporting technologies in your data center as well as the field.

In the data center, where your application resides you need an application delivery technology which would help allow the caregiver access from wherever it’s needed. Aside from using your WAN to connect the data center to the hospital, adding the use of the Internet and Citrix to your data center infrastructure will enhance the capability of supporting application access from “wherever.” Using Citrix to front-end your application in your data center represents the most versatile technology available, and would allow delivery of your application to “wherever.” Using Citrix, a caregiver using a PC, laptop or PDA would not only be able to access their critical application from the hospital through its WAN back to the data center, but also from “wherever” if the PC and its browser can connect to the Internet.

Wireless technology is becoming essential in the hospital as a method of connecting the caregiver to critical applications from anywhere in the hospital. Wireless technology lowers the cost of operation and ownership because it eliminates the need for individual workstation cable drops throughout the hospital.

Quality of Service
Addressing and/or resolving the above two issues certainly helps put the healthcare enterprise into a better position when providing quality care. Caregivers can access patient information whenever and wherever it’s needed, which helps doctors, nurses and medical staffs make better, faster and more informed decisions when it comes to patient care. Given the challenged economy and an increased level of competition between hospitals and health systems for their share of the patient population overall, hospital and health-system CIOs are under intense pressure to justify the investments they make in technology, and to demonstrate – in real dollars and cents – the resulting return on investment.

Patients who know they’re cared for promptly and comprehensively at a hospital are much more prone to return to that hospital for care in the future, and to recommend that hospital to friends, family and others as well. The fact is, data centers enable the technology as a tool that enables the kind of high-quality and efficient patient care that keeps patients coming back, and well-satisfied and loyal patients grow the bottom line.

Cost Containment
From a data center perspective, cost containment means utilizing and leveraging technologies such as virtualization, SANs, Citrix and clustering to lessen administrative management requirements and increase productivity. The efficiency and productivity of doctors, nurses and medical staffs is directly connected to technology’s ability to enable and exemplify those qualities – and to do so with little to no need for oversight. The same is true for a hospital’s data center, since cost savings bred from establishing and maintaining a data center facility are quickly negated if that facility must be managed by staff whose time could be better spent elsewhere in the hospital setting.

The fact is, there are many forward-looking technologies on the horizon that can help hospitals stay ahead of the technology curve and preserve data in new and exciting ways, further streamlining the patient care experience and enabling hospitals to protect patients and their data continuously – all while containing costs. For example, hospitals’ cross-country synchronous replication costs for 1 TB of data have decreased dramatically over the past several years, from millions of dollars in 2002 to approximately $100,000 today, boosting the practicality and affordability of replication for all healthcare systems with minimum oversight and maximum potential for cost containment.