Enterprise injection

When seconds can mean the difference between life and death, and a poor IT infrastructure really can kill, it’s vital for physicians and doctors in the Middle East to know they can rely on technology to help, rather than hinder.

Tags: BahrainBlue Coat Systems IncorporatedHealthcareKuwaitOmanQatarSymantec CorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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Enterprise injection Technology is increasingly finding its way into hospitals: even sterile environments like theatres.
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By  Aaron Greenwood Published  September 26, 2010

When seconds can mean the difference between life and death, and a poor IT infrastructure really can kill, it’s vital for physicians and doctors in the Middle East to know they can rely on technology to help, rather than hinder.

The development of cutting-edge healthcare IT systems is not only saving lives, but changing the way healthcare workers – and their employers – go about their daily business.

While the healthcare sector has been perceived as being conservative when it comes to the development and application of new technologies, this situation has evolved rapidly in recent years as healthcare organisations have recognised the benefits networked IT systems provide in enhancing patient care while keeping costs in line.

From networked communication tools to the latest IT security infrastructure, the medical IT sector is now big business, attracting an increasing number of specialised technology providers developing an ever-growing number of niche products.

The latest IT systems can enable remote diagnosis, saving time and delivering a faster and better service to patients. They also enable the sharing of healthcare knowledge, instant diagnosis, the delivery of information to specialised consultants and the ability to look up a patient’s information in emergency situations using handheld devices.

This latter capability represents one of the most important developments to impact the way healthcare workers go about their business, says Ali Ahmar, regional sales manager MENA at Brocade Communications.

“Wireless technology, specifically the adoption of 802.11n has proven to be one of the most transformational technologies in healthcare,” he claims. “With the proliferation of medical monitoring devices as well as the broad adoption of PDAs, tablet PCs and smartphones, wireless technology is enabling healthcare providers to monitor and deliver care whenever and wherever needed.”

Bashar Bashaireh, regional director at security vendor Fortinet, argues the application of videoconferencing technologies and increasing collaboration between different medical institutions over the internet has made it necessary to establish secured, manageable and scalable networks.

“In most medical facilities, thousands of patients’ medical records have been digitised and put on the network, making it more efficient to operate and collaborate amongst healthcare organisations,” he says.

“In addition, networking and connectivity between medical equipment and devices and adoption of emerging applications, such as VoIP, RFID-enabled devices and video conferencing facilities such as Telemedicine, are becoming standard at most medical institutions, especially in this region. The use of Telemedicine and collaboration between different medical institutions over the internet has also made it necessary to establish secured, manageable and scalable networks,” adds Bashairah.

While videoconferencing systems are changing the way medical practitioners collaborate and share patient information, Nigel Hawthorn, vice president marketing EMEA for Blue Coat, says they are also increasing the burden on legacy network infrastructure.

“We are seeing a growth in remote diagnosis using video conferencing between health professionals and the patient,” he says. “The amount of data being transferred can be large (for example a complete set of MRI scan images) and needs to go across cities or countries between the patient and the expert. Therefore, WAN optimisation technologies can help ensure data transfers are fast without overburdening the wide area network.”

As most health data is encrypted when transferred, WAN technologies need to be able to optimise SSL-encrypted data, as well as growing video traffic, Hawthorn stresses.

Bulent Teksoz, regional technology manager MENA at Symantec, says many regional healthcare facilities are making the transition to electronic imaging systems for X-rays, MRIs, mammograms and other diagnostic images by implementing PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication Systems) in their radiology and cardiology departments.

“While Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), as well as these digital imaging systems, have been proven to save healthcare providers both time and money, the real challenge in the future lies in managing, storing and archiving the rapidly growing amounts of data for diagnostic images and electronic records,” he stresses.

Bashaireh at Fortinet argues that these cutting-edge initiatives necessitate that CIOs consider the transition to or adoption of IPv6 networks instead of IPv4, if they have not already.

“It also means that in compliance with regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and PCI (Payment Card Industry), these healthcare institutions need to implement the most stringent and comprehensive information technology security solutions to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patients’ medical records,” he explains.

Hawthorn believes ensuring the security of databases containing confidential patient information remains the fundamental challenge facing networked healthcare institutions.

“The downside of available patient databases is security,” he says. “Healthcare institutions require the best authentication, security and logging systems. Healthcare IT departments needs to ensure they are protecting confidential patient information from inappropriate access, users sending data out of the organisation or malware infections to gather user data. Even names, addresses and dates of birth can be useful to cyber-criminals.”

Hawthorn believes healthcare IT departments need to identify all possible sources of data loss – from laptops being stolen, to USB sticks used for data transfers, to emails and webmail that includes patient records.

“Data leak prevention is a key component in monitoring user behaviour, and blocking and reporting on data breaches,” he says.

While medical CIOs can do their best to ensure databases remain secure, there can be no accounting for personnel errors. As Teksoz notes, “the biggest challenge facing the medical IT sector is people.”

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