Robust Data Networks Can Help Support Meaningful Use

Alex Soumbeniotis Sewell
Alexandra Sewell

Guest post by Alexandra Sewell, executive director, enterprise marketing, Comcast Business.

Meaningful use is one of the largest drivers of healthcare IT, with the potential for far-reaching effects. Many healthcare organizations are well on their way to achieving meaningful use, working through related cost, training and resource challenges.

But there is still work to be done. Meaningful use can require significant network infrastructure investment to support electronic health records (EHRs) and other technologies. At the same time, budgets are shrinking, so providers must be strategic about how they allocate IT dollars.

Improving Patient Outcomes

EHRs give doctors a complete view of the patient — from demographics and vital signs to medications, allergies and more. EHRs are a central component to complying with meaningful use Stage 1 requirements and help doctors easily view and transmit records, which can lead to more accurate patient diagnosis and treatment.

Hospitals with EHR systems can better capture data regarding patients’ co-morbidities and other risks. This helps clinicians manage patients, resulting in more positive clinical outcomes and improving mortality rates for heart attack, respiratory failure, and lower intestine surgery. EHRs can help improve the overall quality of patient care.

Integrating PACS

Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) technology provides economical storage and convenient access to a range of images from multiple imaging devices, transmitting them digitally and eliminating the need to manually file, retrieve or transport film jackets.

To comply with Stage 2 of meaningful use, healthcare providers must offer patients the ability to view, transmit, and download their health information. And while not explicitly mandated by meaningful use core objectives, many organizations are integrating their PACS and EHR systems so images, such as MRIs and CT scans, can be shared between physicians and with patients through patient portals. However, the size and volume of these imaging files place stress on hospital networks, creating data capacity and data center connectivity issues.

Enhancing Collaboration

According to HIMSS, health information exchanges (HIE) are crucial to support healthcare transformation. They let doctors, nurses, pharmacists, other providers and patients securely access and share a patient’s medical information electronically, thus improving the speed, quality, safety and cost of care.

Meaningful use Stage 1 focuses on capturing patient health data electronically, while stages 2 and 3 will set rigorous standards for electronically transmitting patient data and results across multiple organizations, including pharmacies, payers and unaffiliated providers. HIE allows access to and sharing of lab results, case summaries, public health reports, medical device interoperability and more. However, all of this information sharing and data transfer leads to an extremely high volume of network traffic.

Network Bandwidth Implications

Sufficient network bandwidth is needed to support meaningful use. It increases the storage capacity hospitals need to convert patient medical data to EHRs. It transmits large quantities of data within the hospital and across the healthcare ecosystem. It allows the use of more cloud-based applications, more mobile devices on the network, and more portals for patients to access their health data.

Because these data-intensive services require robust network bandwidth, healthcare IT professionals should evaluate whether their internal networks can support the demands placed on them. Some organizations may find their existing technology infrastructure cannot manage and store vast amounts of data being generated from and transmitted between multiple applications and organizations.

Here are a few questions to consider:

The answers will likely drive healthcare organizations to consider the advantages of Ethernet. Ethernet is an exceptional foundation to help healthcare organizations meet the high-bandwidth requirements of new healthcare technologies. It links geographically dispersed facilities, which can be miles apart, together on a single network, enables high-performance network access, and connects to cloud-based applications and data center resources. It is a dynamic platform that drives application performance, converges traffic and offers remarkable expandability.

Ethernet can easily scale in case more capacity is needed in the future. Ethernet also has a lower total cost of ownership than legacy network technologies like T1 lines—an important advantage for healthcare organizations struggling with the costs of implementing meaningful use technology.

Healthcare providers today face a number of challenges. Meaningful use of EHRs is helping providers meet these challenges, but it can put a huge capacity strain on legacy systems. Providers should upgrade their networks with the capacity needed to support the growing data demands of healthcare initiatives, and Ethernet provides that capacity.

Physicians and medical staff are overwhelmed by caseloads. Patients demand increased access to services, higher quality care, and more participation in their own care. Hospitals and health systems need to collaborate and coordinate patient care across a variety of entities and providers, which can help them successfully achieve all stages of meaningful use.

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