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Important Health IT Infrastructure Building Considerations

IT decision makers are faced with many steps when considering how to begin upgrading their health IT infrastructure.

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By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations typically run on a health IT infrastructure that, at its most basic level, contains a wireless network, a storage server, and an operating system. These features are used to run the programs and apps needed to collect electronic data, as well as any cloud or virtualization solutions an organization chooses to deploy.

Healthcare organizations looking to upgrade typically have legacy systems supporting their infrastructure, that while functional, are likely unable to handle a growing digital environment. However, replacing an older environment piece by piece is much more difficult than starting from scratch.

Assessing and replacing large parts of the infrastructure takes thorough and precise planning by professionals and vendor consultants. Organizations need to have an IT professional on their staff to make decisions, head all infrastructure projects, and communicate budget requirements with financial officers. Projects need to be identified and ranked according to how much an organization relies on that part of the infrastructure.

Wireless networks are the foundation of a health IT infrastructure solution. Every system depends on the wireless network to provide organizations with the speed and results needed for successful deployment.

“You have to build a network for coverage, the devices have to work everywhere,” Aruba Networks Product Marketing Manager Rick Reid told HITInfrastructure.com. “Once a hospital moves to that critical communication method you have to make sure it works in the stairwell and it works in the hallways, and you can’t have any dead spots.”

Isolating pieces of the IT infrastructure to upgrade can present compatibility issues, which take time to solve. If a wireless network is too dated to handle a new cloud deployment, the wireless network needs to be upgraded before any other new technology is considered.

Upgrading an entire infrastructure is a long process due to budget the restraints healthcare institutions often face. Each aspect of an enterprise level IT infrastructure deployment is costly because of the technology and the staff required to maintain and run it.

While some of these infrastructure deployments will limit the number of staff needed by design, specialists may be needed to properly manage and maintain solutions. Current IT staff will also need to be trained in the new technology. Additional facility and security staff may also be required for larger institutions.

Staffing is also a challenge, as was discussed in a survey conducted by Harvey Nash last year. IT infrastructures are changing and staff positions go in and out of necessity as new solutions streamline certain processes.

According to the Harvey Nash survey, CIOs are concerned about their IT staff. Sixty-percent of respondents said a lack of talent will prevent them keeping up with the pace of change. The survey also found that most healthcare organizations are looking to outsource certain IT roles

Upgrading a health IT infrastructure goes beyond determining which solution will work best for each part of the infrastructure. A significant ROI is also an important factor, especially for healthcare institutions.

Healthcare practices conduct business differently than other industries when it comes to turning a profit. People need to see healthcare professionals, regardless of the organization having the latest technology. New value-based care initiatives have organizations assessing the cost of ownership against improved patient care.

Other industries are likely to see a direct relation of rising profit over time to adoption of new technology, where healthcare may not. Lack of ROI makes adopting new, high-tech solutions hard to justify if they are not critical to operations.

IT decision-makers need to consider the value of increased productivity against what the budget will allow for new technology.

Upgrading legacy health IT infrastructure is becoming more important as patient expectations change. Better use of healthcare technology begins with the foundation it operates on. IT infrastructure supports inward and outward facing applications, biomedical devices, and file storage.

An organization’s health IT infrastructure needs to be able to embrace new technologies that patients and healthcare professionals are coming to expect.