Until very recently, going to see your doctor meant sitting in a crowded waiting room, filling out endless forms, and then spending a few minutes with the physician, who often sent you home with a prescription for some tests or medication. Today, as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that model of care has been turned on its head. After an initial shutdown, doctors, hospitals, healthcare provider groups, and clinics are beginning once again to see patients in person. At the same time, however, many have turned to telehealth and telemedicine services to remotely screen and provide care to patients. In fact, the entire industry is moving in that direction. According to a Mordor Intelligence report, the virtual health market is predicted to be a $66 billion-dollar industry by 2021.
In a recent CUBE conversation, Eric Gray, chief solutions architect for NETSCOUT, pointed out that many healthcare providers already had online capabilities, while others have scrambled to put systems in place during COVID-19. “One of the biggest concerns a lot of healthcare organizations have had as they’re trying to roll out telehealth services is maintaining HIPAA compliance,” said Gray. “As it moves back and forth across the internet, doctor-patient data has to remain confidential. In addition, as healthcare providers interact with patients, connectivity needs to be high quality. This is key in order for a doctor to remotely make an accurate assessment of symptoms. Audio and video quality have to be pristine to make this type of interaction work effectively and reliably.”
Gray went on to point out that healthcare IT teams have been under pressure to move quickly, standing up new VPN concentrators and ensuring service provider connections have sufficient bandwidth and security. While these infrastructure efforts have been costly for healthcare providers, the NCBI estimates that telehealth could save the United States healthcare system more than $4 billion annually.
Ensuring telehealth quality and reliability
The key to ensuring telehealth and telemedicine quality and reliability is effective network monitoring. In many cases, this includes unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) systems, which are highly complex.
“It’s vitally important for IT to be sure they can maintain a high level of availability for the healthcare organization’s network,” said Gray. “This means being able to assure that telehealth software is functional, that the network is robust, and that response times are fast. In short, IT needs to fully understand what the end-user experience will be like in advance of the call. The quality of that experience has to be exceptional. Effective network monitoring that relies on packet data is critical for gaining much-needed insights into how UC&C protocols function, so IT can evaluate jitter and loss scores and create a secure RTP payload environment. And IT needs to be able to monitor each session so they can be sure that the patient and doctor see and hear each other flawlessly.”
Clearly, when monitoring and troubleshooting issues with telehealth and telemedicine systems, IT needs visibility across all web connections and through firewalls and load balancers. This is how healthcare organizations achieve business continuity, while protecting patients.
Watch the full interview