An army may march on its stomach, but in a hospital it is the seemingly endless flow of paperwork and administrative flotsam that keeps a facility pumping and profitable as doctors and others go about their daily work of providing quality healthcare.
If this flow is slowed or delayed by inconsistent network access or WAN connection problems, then it can affect the entire operation and create significant problems at the point of patient contact. This was the case at PH Tech, a healthcare information services provider that offers its members access to patient eligibility status, authorizations, claims payments and other information that is the lifeblood of every hospital's back-office operation.
"The system was not able to provide consistent uptime," explained Chad Casady, director of information technology at Performance Health Technology, Ltd. (PH Tech). This system consisted of a WiMAX connection to an Internet service provider (ISP) whose connections were subject to all sorts of problems, including those related to the weather. The company decided to add a T1 line to alleviate the problem and provide a backup alternative, Casady said, but it then had to find a WAN appliance that could provide load balancing and failover protection between the two circuits.
"This was not only for our own Internet access but for outside customers, since we hosted applications as an ASP," he added. WAN controller selection: Less cost, more flexibility
PH Tech looked at a number of solutions, including some at the top of the pricing scale, but settled on a WAN link controller from Ecessa Corp., which was less expensive but more appropriate for handling the company's mission-critical applications and data on more than 350,000 customers.
"The solution cost close to half what we would have spent if we [had] bought a system from Juniper," Casady noted. More important, Ecessa's PowerLink controller can easily handle the demands of the company's Web-based applications and outside user demands, as well as the requirements of its own internal users. It can also manage both wireless and T1 traffic, providing failover protection and redundancy.
Although cost savings was a deciding factor in going with Ecessa, PH Tech was more concerned with reliability and flexibility as it searched for an appropriate WAN controller solution. The company is constantly developing new tools for its customers, so whatever choice it made had to be fleet-footed enough to keep up with changes and improvements on the network. PH Tech's software environment is fully virtualized and very dependent on tools that monitor network activities and signal needed changes, Casady said. "So we needed a platform that can shift and allow us to make those changes quickly."
Since installing the PowerLink controller, PH Tech has had zero network downtime related to ISP connectivity issues. When something does go wrong – like a drop in a wireless connection – the controller quickly removes the faulty connection address and channels requests to a working connection – all without the user ever realizing a glitch has happened, Casady points out.
Looking to the future, Casady will rely on the WAN controller's load balancing and redundancy as he and his team work to keep their network healthy by cleaning up internal applications and applying more tools to make things percolate a little more efficiently. The company is also keeping an eye on trends to allow consumers to take more control of their healthcare records and medical bookkeeping, since this may eventually increase demands on PH Tech's networks.
"I don't know how consumers will respond," Casady said. "But it won't be popular unless they are provided with help to manage it."