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 Data Governance

Securing networks through the Internet

Myriad events can compromise data.

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   By Ted Dunham, GE Healthcare, September 2013

With the number of clinical devices at a patient’s bedside on the rise, clinical network security has emerged as a major concern for hospital IT and biomedical teams across the country. According to data collected from 45 U.S. hospitals in a 2012 GE study (Christopher Mullins and Ruslan Horblyuk, “Out of Control,” HFMA, July 2012), the number of clinical devices per staffed bed grew on average from eight to 13 – or a 62 percent increase. As more devices get added, hospitals must continuously monitor a growing amount of clinical network traffic to secure network connectivity and help avoid interruption to patient care.

Clinical networks help ensure the integrity of patient and clinical data is transmitted in a timely and secure manner. Myriad events, including intrusions, device connectivity and network latency, can compromise data and, by extension, affect patient care. For example, if a patient’s vital signs deteriorate, a nurse must be alerted with the help of a clinical network and immediately tend to the situation. For this reason, biomedical departments need the ability to monitor the connectivity of the entire clinical network to help isolate a network outage in a timely manner and avoid further interruption to patient care. Clinical network outages can impact a nurse’s ability to provide care to patients or a biomedical department’s ability to isolate a network outage in a timely manner, putting patients’ care at risk.

As the growing web of hospital technology creates challenges for hospitals, developments in monitoring and network service offer tangible solutions. Here are a few examples of strategies hospitals can use to help keep clinical networks secure.

Stay on top of your network. The primary goal of every healthcare provider and hospital is to stop a patient’s health from deteriorating, and it is imperative that clinical networks be treated with the same proactive mentality. Gaining visibility into issues within a network before they become serious is something that all hospitals should invest in. New technologies are able to help detect network malfunctions before they impact patient care or spiral into a crisis by giving biomedical teams the ability to continuously monitor network connectivity of medical equipment, both remotely and onsite, helping to lower the number of network-driven incidences and allowing biomeds to respond quicker to issues. For example, these technologies enable biomed teams to receive alerts as the clinical network begins to decline. With that alert, they will receive a notification when a device stops communicating, is having trouble communicating, or when the device fails completely. This can be significant when the failure of the device has an impact on multiple patients.

Help the flow of patient data. In addition to gaining visibility into network malfunctions or unauthorized changes, it is also important for hospitals to record the instances of unauthorized changes, malfunctions and outages, in order to improve processes going forward. With the increased knowledge of when network outages are likely to occur or which devices often malfunction, hospital staff and healthcare providers are able to take action for potential interruptions to patient care before they happen. Combining network connection incident logs with predictive analytics can help ensure uninterrupted flow of medical information and data that can contribute to patient safety.

Let your machines talk to each other. This kind of proactive monitoring and change to the way we think about equipment and network service is possible due to the industrial Internet. Through technology, we can now harness the system intelligence provided by network devices to a centralized location. This allows the biomedical department to monitor, manage and maintain the entire clinical network much more efficiently and effectively from a position of advantage. These machine-to-machine communications help with the predictive side of monitoring a clinical network, which in turn saves time and money. 

Stay secure through practice. These strategy examples can help support hospitals’ control over the ever-growing amount of technology and information that flows through its walls each day. With clinical networks constantly transmitting life-critical information, it is necessary for hospitals to keep those networks safe, secure and open at all times for the sake of their patients.

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Tags:  Data Governance