IT infrastructure convergence key to managed network services
By Rod Sampson, RCDD, July 2010
Multiplicity of infrastructures and management has led to increased complexity installing, maintaining and troubleshooting technology-based applications and systems.
Aside from traditional telephone (voice) systems, pre-Internet protocol (IP) hospital communication systems were primarily devoted to life safety and monitoring applications, such as nurse call systems and fire alarms. Because of their life safety implications, these systems became strictly regulated. They were, and often still are, required to have their own dedicated infrastructures.
Today, however, most healthcare facilities have multiple applications and systems in place that do not have life safety requirements, but which are nonetheless essential to achieving more accurate and efficient processes for better patient care. Examples include real-time locating systems, picture archiving and communications systems, computer-based practitioner order entry systems, clinical decision-support systems, interactive patient entertainment services, building automation systems (security, climate control, lighting) and closed-circuit television.
Many of these applications and systems have been installed as needed, each with its own dedicated infrastructure. Some are managed by the building management department, some by various clinical groups, and some by the IT department. As one can imagine, this multiplicity of infrastructures and management has led to increased complexity for those responsible for installing, maintaining and troubleshooting these technology-based applications and systems.
Vital medical equipment and data-rich clinical and/or diagnostic systems already place huge demands on hospital communication infrastructures. The situation will worsen as new applications are added, many of which will have an impact on the coordination and quality of patient care. While there have been some attempts to build "bridges" that allow pushing and pulling of critical data from one dedicated application to another to facilitate information sharing and collaboration, too often these bridges themselves create inefficiencies and potential points of failure.
The solution: IT infrastructure convergence
Converging disparate technology systems by implementing a common communication platform upon which these systems operate has become a "best practice" followed by other industries, including educational institutions, government agencies and large commercial enterprises.High-performance, IP-based Ethernet networks are the standard for infrastructure convergence, primarily because they provide an integrated connectivity platform for real-time collaboration, monitoring and control, along with myriad voice, data, video and multimedia applications.The converged infrastructure provides an open, standards-based foundation that can tie all the healthcare applications and systems together along one or more infrastructures. It provides the bandwidth and signal performance required by current systems, and is scalable to meet the requirements of future applications as well.
Additional advantages of IP-based convergence include: easier installation of new patient care or facility management applications; optimal information flow between the facility's equipment and systems; better accessibility of information for mobile clinicians and caregivers; mitigation of duplication among existing communication infrastructures; and simplified command and control via an open network, secure and non-proprietary protocol.
Best of all, by following established data networking and communications industry standards, infrastructure obsolescence and the adoption of dead-end technologies can be reduced or avoided. Simplicity and efficiency become the hallmarks of the new and more sustainable infrastructure, resulting in overall lower costs of operation and administration.
Four levels of convergence
The four types of IT convergence for healthcare facilities, starting with the foundation, include: infrastructure convergence, network convergence, data convergence and operational convergence.
Total IT convergence can be planned and accomplished in stages over a period of time, beginning with the infrastructure as the foundation. Some leading healthcare facilities have realized up to a 20 percent savings in materials and labor simply by implementing a converged infrastructure rather than a traditional set of multiple dedicated infrastructures. The overall goal, however, is ultimately to arrive at the level of convergence that best meets the organization's needs, timetable and budget.
Planning a converged infrastructure
There is no doubt that convergence is driving a dramatic transformation of the healthcare industry — a transformation in which medical and information technologies play a huge role. Careful and collaborative planning of the communication infrastructure at the design stage of healthcare building construction or modernization can not only save millions of dollars over the long term, but also can ensure that the systems it supports will perform reliably for many years to come.
High-performance, IP-based Ethernet networks are the standard for infrastructure convergence, primarily because they provide an integrated connectivity platform for real-time collaboration, monitoring and control, along with myriad voice, data, video and multimedia applications.
Typically, the ideal Ethernet communication framework will include an optimized mix of copper and fiber-based cabling and connectivity, with a wireless overlay. The two should be expressly designed to work together to fulfill mission-critical functions within each network area, while taking into account patient safety, network performance, mobility, reliability and cost factors.
Selecting network components
The cabling plant should comprise components engineered and manufactured to provide reliable and consistently high performance levels. It should be built on an open and flexible architecture to allow the network to grow and change as needs dictate over an extended period of time, without making significant changes to the backbone.
The Belden IBDN 10GX System UTP cabling and connectivity solution is ideal for use in high-performance environments, such as healthcare facilities. The copper-based system exceeds all Category 6A performance requirements of the ANSI/TIA 568C.2 Standard and delivers guaranteed performance up to 625 MHz (125 MHz beyond the standard).
In selecting the cabling and other system components, planners must take into account the required transmission speed (expressed as Gb/s or gigabits per second), and the bandwidth or capacity (expressed as MHz or megahertz). In determining these factors, it is crucial to keep in mind not only current requirements, but also the expanded demands of the future.
With digital convergence of healthcare information systems on the upswing, demand is growing for healthcare networks to incorporate internal communications systems, monitoring and control of clinical equipment, VoIP, fire and life safety systems, security systems, environmental control systems, and wireless and mobile communications.
Larger hospitals and medical campuses may also want to plan for video conferencing and training facilities, as well as telemedicine, which involves data-intensive applications such as remote consultations and digital image transfer of X-rays and other diagnostic imaging technologies.
Convergence of such diverse and complex applications and systems demands an open, standards-based cabling plant that allows for both public and private networks, utilizing advanced Ethernet technologies.
A word about wireless
In just a few short years, wireless networking has become a critical aspect of the hospital IT environment, allowing staff members to remain connected to their critical systems regardless of their location. To be most effective, a hospital's wireless network must provide ubiquitous, uninterrupted wireless connectivity and centralized management, as well as 99.999 percent uptime, security safeguards, and full interoperability with all Wi-Fi-enabled products.
Rod Sampson is healthcare vertical marketing manager for Belden, which designs and manufactures signal transmission solutions for enterprise, industrial and wireless networking markets, as well as a host of specialty markets. For more information on Belden solutions: