Guest Article: Be sure you have proactive networking monitoring in place before you install clinical software

June 22, 2010

Not everybody is jumping on to the ARRA HITECH (stimulus bill) bandwagon and installing EMRs and clinical software, but many are. There are many problems that are difficult to solve before you implement EHRs and EMRs — like getting optimal data entry procedures, working out the proper codes, setting up the right workflows, etc. However, one major problem I’ve seen during my recent installs, which is readily solvable using technology, is that networks often aren’t ready for the software. EMRs are bandwidth intensive and take up lots of space on a network due to large documents, images, etc. Having proactive networking monitoring in place before you install and then watching the network for bottlencks after installations is crucial. To help discuss some techniques, I invited folks from Paessler (which focuses on network monitoring) to tell us what they recommend. Here’s what they shared about one of their clients:

As one of the leading cancer treatment centers in the United States, Wilshire Oncology Medical Group operates seven clinical treatment centers throughout the Los Angeles area. The company’s leading-edge treatment practices are supported by its state-of-the-art information technology network that includes fully-electronic patient medical records, as well as a group-wide practice management system delivered as a Software as a Service solution. Given that they’re so dependent on electronic communications, small network problems or any IT failure can have a direct impact patients’ care and comfort.

Wilshire put in place a network monitoring system to help predict uptime, quality, speed and reliability of critical data connections between its corporate headquarters and 10 remote facilities. By understanding what ‘normal’ usage looks like, they are able to spot any abnormalities, identify the issue and remedy it before it causes a problem that affects patient care. It’s something that all healthcare organizations should be doing.

With 283 remote sensors deployed across the company’s network, Wilshire Oncology can monitor the network not only for Internet connectivity and VPN connections between the corporate offices and remote locations, but also the speed and reliability of connections with its third-party vendors, battery backups, 16 physical servers, 9 virtual machines and even some individual workstations.

Each remote probe reports data to the main monitoring console on a Dell PE1850 server, running Windows Server 2003 R2 x64. The data is compiled into an easy-to-use graphical snapshot of the entire network’s performance. From the main dashboard, the IT Director is able to drill down to examine specific details about particular components.

A built-in automatic reporting system delivers specific reports via e-mail to Wilshire’s IT Director on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to help him keep track of normal operating status and spot any abnormal trends. In the event of a problem, he can use the network monitoring solution to generate a report illustrating the memory usage on a server or decreased transmission speed, for example, and supply this data via email to the vendor for troubleshooting purposes.

Meanwhile, in the event of an actual outage, network traffic slowdown or any other noteworthy event, the system automatically alerts Wilshire’s IT Director via e-mail, SMS, or pager so that he may begin to immediately diagnose the problem. With multiple locations and limited resources, this allows him to work much more efficiently to resolve issues, saving both time and money in troubleshooting, travel and even hardware/software upgrades.

Network monitoring allows Wilshire to stretch its technology budget, as well. Although it is primarily used for server and network monitoring, they’ve also used it for temporary monitoring of troublesome workstations. In one case, the solution helped IT staff to determine that a problem was caused by too little RAM in the machine – a problem easily and affordably corrected by adding more memory rather than upgrading the entire workstation.

As medical offices continue to embrace technology, there is a growing demand to ensure the most efficient use of that technology. Network monitoring can help healthcare organizations identify real needs, justify the costs of upgrades, and decide where to make IT investments that will do the most good.

Previous post:

Next post: