Roger Sands

Why backend IT is crucial in the fight against COVID-19

May 04, 2020
By Roger Sands

The coronavirus is a threat that is impacting hospitals’ wired and wireless networks in a very real way. As hospitals deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are facing fast-paced changes on all sides. Some are ramping up telemedicine, preparing for a surge in telework, and/or shuffling around network connected equipment as rooms and entire floors are rearranged and repurposed to best support the health of all patients and employees. For each of these initiatives to be successful, a hospital must have a reliable and secure WiFi network.

Without these networks, there is no telework or telemedicine, medical IoT devices will no longer provide key analytics, and care coordination within departments or across hospitals becomes increasingly difficult. These networks are a mission-critical resource, and they will not operate without the proper back-end infrastructure in place. In order to secure your entire network, take these steps to optimize and protect your infrastructure.

Physical security
Your servers are the backbone of your network. They store all sensitive data and must be safeguarded and protected from tampering. Keep servers in a locked room with controlled access. Within that room, all servers, firewalls, switches, and network panels should be kept in a locked rack. This minimizes the risk that someone malicious could access the server and steal sensitive data.

In addition, facilities should include advanced security solutions such as:
● Web-based cameras
● Video surveillance
● AI-driven visitor analytics

Surveillance should be set up both outside and inside the room, and systems should note who accessed the room, when they accessed it, and why they accessed it. You can also use badges and ID cards to record access, and require everyone to record details in a log book. Remember though that physical access cards and books can be stolen. It’s best to have a digital, visual record at all times. Web-based cameras and AI-analytics are especially useful when IT teams are not on the premises, whether that is during off-hours, or because teams are responsible for multiple facilities and are often required to work remotely. Security is paramount and professionals should have access to real-time updates and alerts no matter whether they are on-premise or not.

Bring your own device (BYOD)
It isn’t enough to optimize a network based only on the expected number of medical devices that will connect. Hospitals must also consider personal devices. Whether a hospital allows employees to bring their own devices or not, you can guarantee that patients and guests will have at least one, if not more, personal devices on them when they enter the facility. If a network isn’t designed to deal with the load, these devices can put excessive strain on it, causing medical users to experience lags and downtime due to the congestion. For healthcare professionals depending on real-time vitals updates and monitoring from IoT devices, or who are meeting with a patient virtually, these disruptions can have severe negative impacts.

To prevent this, hospitals should work proactively to separate network traffic based on users, prioritize medically-necessary usage, and monitor WiFi performance.

Separate network traffic and prioritize medical use
While networks should be separated for security reasons, it also helps to separate them in order to restrict guest’s bandwidth. With separate networks, it is possible to implement Quality of Service (QoS) rules on routers and divide available bandwidth based on assigned priority. For example, you can restrict the bandwidth of your guest network, preventing guests and patients from eating up too much bandwidth streaming videos or games while waiting for care.

Each router has different firmware and capabilities, so the QoS settings will be different, but the concept is the same. Use your QoS rules to tell your router what applications, services, and/or users are most important. Then, these devices will receive the most bandwidth and the best user experience time. Non-prioritized traffic will then be prevented from negatively affecting critical medical resources. You can visit your manufacturer’s website to review documentation detailing what QoS settings your router supports and how to access them.

Monitor WiFi performance
Maintaining optimized network speed, quality, and consistency of performance is critical in providing the best patient care, which is why hospitals should continuously monitor their networks. If you don’t know how your network performs during various normal and high-stress scenarios, you don’t know that you can absolutely depend on your network.

As networks are dynamic - changing every time devices are added or removed, when buildings are renovated, and when software and hardware are updated - they must be monitored 24/7 in real-time in order to ensure that all relevant information is captured and analyzed. All analytics must also be saved for future reference. With a combination of constant monitoring and historical analytics, IT is able to easily review network performance and identify trends over time. This supports IT in proactively determining when a hospital needs to upgrade infrastructure - before the infrastructure severely degrades, impacting health professionals and patients.

Remote visibility
As facilities issue travel bans and limit certain access to essential personnel, IT teams must have the ability to see into the network, identify problems, and troubleshoot issues, without being onsite. Without remote access into the entire network ecosystem, there can be a delay in resolving issues, which could ultimately cost lives.

Any remote visibility solution must:
● Identify every device and application using or impacting the network - this includes any nearby networks that could cause interference
● Provide real-time alerts of suspected and active network issues
● Include troubleshooting capabilities for all issues

The key is for the solution to deliver detailed, easily understood insights and data so that it fully supports IT in providing a predictable, reliable, high-performing wireless network.

Hospitals’ network infrastructures are complex systems that are the lifeblood of the facility. Use these steps to defend and optimize your network, to best support your hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, and during all future situations.

About the author: Roger Sands is the co-founder and CEO of Wyebot.