Hospital IT Leaders Agree on Network Priorities and Future Wireless Challenges

CHICAGO (May 6, 2012) – Today HIMSS Analytics, with the support of Comcast Business, releases the results of a study of hospital IT leaders on information network challenges and barriers, as well as strategies being implemented to address current and future network demands. The study, based on the results of a focus group, was conducted at HIMSS13 in March. The findings show that these leaders aligned in IT infrastructure priorities but diverged in their approaches to addressing the current issues relating to network scalability, executive support as well as the viability and security of cloud computing.

Focus group participants identified four interrelated IT infrastructure priorities:

  • Use of mobile devices
  • Security
  • Data storage
  • Images and information exchange

“We found that IT network priorities for all participating hospital systems were consistently focused around accommodating greater mobile and wireless connectivity to their networks,” said Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research for HIMSS Analytics. “Simultaneously, the IT leaders were also concerned with ensuring the security of patient data, particularly as they relate to the challenges associated with Bring Your Own Device environments.”

Participants were asked to share their thoughts and concerns regarding their current network environment. The following are the key findings:

  • Current hospital IT network environments are both wired and wireless. Participants reported that they used a number of different items to establish their networks, from Wi-Fi to DSL lines, but that the number of wireless versus wired devices was growing exponentially.
  • Reliable IT networks are critical. Participants said that it was imperative to design a network with “zero downtime” because a great deal of data is housed electronically and “physicians are data hungry.” Disaster preparation is critical as well, with each participant reporting various strategies for data protection including tape back-ups and multiple data centers.
  • IT networks are good for now, but healthcare organizations will need to be prepared for the increasingly wireless world. Overall, participants reported that they were content with current network environments but expressed concern on how their networks will adapt to accommodate the increased use of wireless technologies and devices.

“As the healthcare industry becomes increasingly focused on utilizing technology to improve patient care, health IT leaders are examining their network infrastructures to ensure they have a strong, reliable and scalable foundation,” said Karen Schmidt, vice president of enterprise marketing for Comcast. “A key challenge will be keeping pace with the growing number of mobile devices entering the market while maintaining secure access and providing the performance to deliver vast amounts of healthcare data.”

Despite overall satisfaction with current IT networks, challenges still loom. The focus group cited wireless “drop zones,” regulating web access to limit personal internet use and the lack of options offered by vendors regarding networking solutions. Each participant had a different approach for addressing these issues.

When asked about the future of healthcare network environments as network demands continue to grow, the participants identified three areas of concern, all with mixed responses and different experiences:

  • Scalability of solutions. Healthcare organizations relying on older technology, such as DSL lines, were more concerned about their organization’s ability to scale in the future than were those using more cutting edge solutions.
  • Executive support for the necessary investments of an expanding network. Several participants noted they had to educate their executive team about the nature of networks and that additional staffing needs would arise with the expansion of networks.
  • Viability of cloud computing and ensuring the ability to secure data. Participants approached cloud computing with caution and some noted that they would not trust storing personal health information in the cloud.

“Moving forward, healthcare organizations must ensure that they can provide secure access to patient data and local networks via a wide variety of devices as the world of apps and mobile technologies continues to evolve,” said Horowitz. “In order to successfully execute expanding mobile strategies, ongoing network vendor collaboration will be key.”

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