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Best Practices for Healthcare Data Centers

31 Mar 2016 by Grant Fjermedal

Healthcare data centers are subject to complex demands, making it challenging to diagnose and prescribe the best way forward when contemplating changes to your healthcare IT infrastructure.

In the same way that multiple medical disciplines are united to work together smoothly within a medical facility, so must the many healthcare IT systems that support these disciplines. That means providing seamless integration with foundational systems, such as the databases supporting Electronic Health Records (EHRs), as well as mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT).

And there are plenty of Governance, Regulation and Compliance (GRC) concerns to attend to — including mandates that may seemingly pull in different directions — such as the need to tightly control access to patient data and personally identifiable information while also supporting the ability to securely share cleansed data with partner organizations in the pursuit of medical research and improving patient outcomes.

All of this makes it crucial that you conduct a thorough data center discovery when considering changes to healthcare data centers — whether refreshing hardware, deploying new software, supporting mobile devices and the IoT, or integrating cloud-based applications.

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Healthcare represents an environment in which a multitude of disciplines and practitioners are brought together to function holistically for the most noble of endeavors — saving lives and improving the quality of life for those served. So it makes sense to work as a cross-functional team by including representatives of all major stakeholders during the discovery phase.

Though teams will differ between organizations, it’s essential to include IT stakeholders knowledgeable about IT infrastructure, applications and security, as well as experts from your GRC and legal teams. Representatives from the clinical side can provide useful insights into how doctors, nurses and technicians use resources. Your team will also benefit from nonclinical users, such as human resources, facilities and administrative services staff. Be sure to include a strong C-level sponsor, ideally the CEO, to overcome barriers and ensure adoption.

Other voices

While your cross-functional discovery team provides a valuable real-life pool of knowledge and view into your own operations, it’s also a good idea to seek an outside voice. This should come in the form of a vendor-neutral, third-party advisor who can provide guidance based on how other organizations are solving similar challenges within healthcare.

An experienced, vendor-neutral partner can help you see the bigger picture across healthcare technology — and help you explore questions you may not have considered — enabling you to learn from the experiences of other healthcare organizations.

This can, for example, provide a view into how others are making use of mobile devices to access EHRs or leveraging the IoT to remotely monitor patients and gather health metrics. An outside advisor can also provide guidance on how to maximize cloud-based resources without raising GRC concerns.

Defining your starting point

One of the foundational tasks of any discovery effort is conducting a comprehensive assessment of your existing data center infrastructure. A robust and up-to-date configuration management database (CMDB) can be a powerful tool for assessing your existing infrastructure of hardware and software assets currently deployed.

Your cross-functional team can help IT go through CMDB findings to identify applications, hardware or devices that are no longer used and should be retired — something that streamlines database operations while also enhancing security by reducing potential attack surfaces. The cross-functional team can also identify applications that are good candidates for modernization and those that can be used to map interdependencies and data sources, as well as flag issues for follow-up.

Cloud considerations

These days any data center discovery process is likely to involve consideration of a modern, cloud-based infrastructure. Some relevant questions might include: What's the main driver of your data center transformation? Are you seeking increased scalability? Increased agility? Or cost reduction? Migrating to the cloud or implementing a hybrid cloud solution could be the answer. The discovery process will help you establish the highest priorities.

Arguments can be made for and against using the cloud in healthcare. Creating a scoring matrix can help you determine whether your organization will benefit from a cloud or hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Security, of course

Healthcare organizations are subject to stringent GRC requirements and frequently employ mobile and IoT devices to support clinicians and staff. The infrastructure assessment phase of the discovery process provides an opportunity for GRC and security experts within the cross-functional team to examine existing systems and identify areas of improvement.

In addition to evaluating legacy applications and systems, it’s also important to look at access management how data is secured on endpoints, such as smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. These kinds of IoT technologies are often used to access EHRs, making it absolutely essential that you have robust security systems in place to prevent a data breach.

Learning more

To learn more about healthcare data center discovery — including best practices for discovery and pitfalls to avoid, download our white paper “11 Best Practices for Healthcare Data Centers.”

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