Healthcare CIO Uses Hyperconverged Infrastructure To Manage COVID-19 Demands

At Delaware Valley Community Health, a nonprofit group of clinics and medical offices in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, providers serve almost 50,000 patients across eight locations.

To meet the challenges of serving this population in the time of COVID-19, DVCH recently went through a technology upgrade that helped to support remote workers and allowed clinicians to deliver telehealth services.

Prior to the upgrade, DVCH had an old-school three-tiered architecture in place which was increasingly becoming inadequate. The EMR was running on 7-year-old hardware, and the demands placed on it by more than 70+ care providers were overwhelming the system, according to Isaiah Nathaniel, the organization’s CIO, who spoke to The Forecast about his modernization efforts.

The obsolete infrastructure was imposing unacceptable delays on the care process. For example, doctors prescribing drugs using the medication module of DVCH’s EMR were losing three to five minutes every time as they waited for the aging infrastructure to complete their transaction, Nathaniel said. “Every day, we were moments away from an old SQL cluster crashing on us,” he told the publication.

He also knew that to be prepared for the future, including new offices, higher patient loads and expanded digital services, new technology investment was a must.

In 2019, Nathaniel managed to convince DVCH top leaders and its board of directors that the organization desperately needed an infrastructure upgrade.

The strategy he chose relied on hyperconverged infrastructure, an approach that pulls together computing, storage networking and virtualization on standardized servers, which are managed and optimized with specialized software. DVCH built on a hyperconverged infrastructure platform from vendor Nutanix.

While the old system relied on physical clusters running on 64 GB of RAM, the upgrade supports database-intensive applications through five cores, two processors and 192 GB of RAM.

Nathaniel completed the bulk of the upgrade effort in the first quarter of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit its stride in the US.

With the new infrastructure in place, the time it took to process medication requests fell from 3 to five minutes to about 15 seconds.  This allowed internal medicine providers to support an average workload of 19.5 patients a day, something that wouldn’t have been possible with the previous infrastructure.

DVCH was able to bring up an integrated telehealth solution in just one week on the new hardware and software, and disaster-recovery times fell from 24 to 48 hours to about six minutes. Log-in times plummeted from two minutes to less than 20 seconds, and completing a 12 TB system backup fell from 3.5 hours to about 30 minutes.

Not surprisingly, the story doesn’t offer an estimate of what the upgrade cost, but it can’t have been cheap. On the other hand, if DVCH can sustain these performance gains it’s hard to imagine that the investment won’t repay itself relatively soon.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.