How SD-WAN Reduces EHR-Related Bottlenecks

Electronic health records (EHRs) have become ubiquitous in healthcare settings, but how much of an actual upgrade are they over legacy recordkeeping? In theory, EHRs provide far superior speed and flexibility to paper records. In practice, they are often plagued by high complexity, low interoperability and poor overall usability.

These issues have many causes, from the lack of cutting-edge specialty EHRs in many clinics and doctor's offices, to illegal yet widespread practices such as information blocking (i.e., only allowing record exchange between specific systems) at hospitals. Legacy hub-and-spoke WANs only contribute to such problems by raising the cost and complicating the rollout of EHR-ready networks.

The long and WANding road to EHR success

Successful EHR solutions are built on reliable, scalable WANs. However, they usually take a while to install and fine-tune, and often must compete with the many other applications vying for bandwidth, including:

  • MRI scanners transmitting large image sets for processing.
  • Video conferencing software connecting staff to remote patients.
  • Wi-Fi networks supporting guest access and clinical communications.

By being costly to deploy, maintain and operate, old-fashioned WANs struggle to support these workflows alongside EHR. Adding bandwidth – especially MPLS – is expensive, while the performance of the most important traffic cannot be guaranteed.

Plus, many medical facilities are patchworks of new and old IT infrastructures, filled with outdated hardware and software that already cost healthcare organizations billions in lost productivity and security breaches every year. An aging WAN adds to this considerable tab, while risking patient safety because of unreliable service assurance. It also jeopardizes various federal reimbursement incentives that healthcare providers can earn through the demonstrated use of certified EHR technology for specific tasks such as filing prescriptions.

How can health providers modernize their networks for more efficient EHR management? On the surface, their options might seem limited. After all, the healthcare sector has historically taken an incremental approach to adopting new technologies, a practice exemplified by EHRs themselves. According to The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, most growth in EHR adoption has occurred since 2008.

At the same time, both large medical centers and smaller practices now have prime opportunities to improve their EHR operations through the implementation of software-defined WANs (SD-WANs). For example, an SD-WAN is more economical and flexible than a traditional all-MPLS WAN, thanks to its ability to support any transport type as well as constantly measure network path quality.

Why SD-WAN can make all the difference in an EHR

EHRs are meant to streamline information management. To do so, they need adaptive WANs that ensure sufficient bandwidth even amid the uniquely complex operating environments of healthcare sites. For example, in addition to the heterogeneous mix of applications we mentioned earlier, there's also the challenge of unpredictable demand as visitors and patients come and go and thick walls (e.g., in X-ray rooms) block wireless signals.

SD-WAN providers and their tools are perfectly equipped to support EHRs in such situations. Unidirectional measurement of jitter, latency and packet loss enables sub-second response to changes around the network, so that EHR traffic can be securely sent down the best available path, whether it's via MPLS, broadband or another mode of transport. Moreover, SD-WANs support secure direct connections to cloud computing platforms, at a time when the healthcare industry continues to explore the migration of more services to the cloud.

A leading SD-WAN provider, Talari Networks can make sure your WAN is EHR-ready and that you can deliver quality care to patients and earn maximum incentive payments. Request a product demo today to learn more.

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