How Networks are Changing Healthcare in a Covid World

Time Magazine states “Health doctors are worried about the unprecedented drop in emergency room visits.” ABC News reports of a dramatic drop in cancer diagnoses. Experts fear, the report says that concerns over coronavirus has led to a drop in cancer screenings. The Denver Channel reports that Covid-19 concerns have disrupted regular doctor visits for babies and kids who are delaying vaccinations and other checkups. This is only a small sample of reports citing a dramatic change in how people are managing their healthcare in a post Covid world.


Not Going is No Solution

People are delaying or otherwise putting off doctor visits because sick people are at the doctors office and they do not want to get sick during visits for routine care. As a result, health care professionals are working on new protocols and technologies to make patients feel more comfortable with well visits, screenings, vaccinations and even visits to the emergency room.


Some of these protocols include taking patient’s temperature before they enter the doctors office or clinic, requiring masks and reducing the number of patients in a waiting room. Other changes include taking advantage of new and existing network technologies to reduce in-person visits while still providing necessary health services.


How Technology is Helping

Covid-19 is driving a faster deployment of tele-health and telemedicine applications than what we would have otherwise seen. 5G and AI capabilities are coming on line to bring tele-health and remote medical applications from a curiosity to common practice. Televideo sessions with your primary physician and the use of connected diagnostic machines for remote patient monitoring require very high speed, wide bandwidth low latency communications.


5G networks will be able to provide the bandwidth, speed and low latency necessary for more in-depth medical services. Artificial Intelligence allows more granular diagnostics using a host of data points not previously available to doctors. As patients grow more comfortable with remote doctor visits and a growing number of remote services, the hope is that fear driven procrastination of well visits, diagnostic visits and even more urgent medical needs will become a problem of the past.


Transitional Issues

There will be operational issues as mobile networks transition from slower speeds and greater latency of 4G to upgraded 5G services. Some remote monitoring and HD video services may not be available until 5G services become ubiquitous. During the transitional period, however, mobile carriers will be closely monitoring network activity and managing Quality of Service metrics. Many remote medical services will be operating at the farthest edge of 4G capability so QoS management will be critical. Even as 5G becomes more widely available, the speed and availability of medical services will require diligent monitoring.


Beyond monitoring for QoS, traffic load and planning purposes, medical information is one of the most fiercely protected classes of personal information. There are many laws and regulations covering the storage, transmission and security of medical information. As more medical services migrate to on line access, network security becomes paramount to the success of remote services.


Connecting Monitoring and Security Devices

There are only a few available methods of attaching monitoring and security tools to network links. Here are some pros and cons to the connection options:


  • Direct Connect - Install the tools directly in-line with the network link. This eliminates the need for additional equipment but may have adverse affects to network availability. If the tool goes off line for any reason, the live link will also go down. If more than one tool is connected in-line, the downtime risk increases with each additional tool. Maintenance and software upgrades are also difficult to schedule because the link must be taken down any time a tool is taken off line.


  • SPAN Ports - This is a simple way to connect tools for monitoring only. The ports are already on the switch and just need to be activated in software. A major problem with this option is that SPAN ports do not provide 100% accurate information because they will randomly drop packets when traffic overloads the port. SPAN connections are also limited to monitoring because they only provide a mirror copy of traffic. As a result, SPAN connections can not enable tools that need to act on real time traffic as required in many security applications.


  • TAPs - TAPs are independent of switches and tools. They are used to connect tools to network links for monitoring and security. TAPs provide fail safe technology that will keep network links up and running even if the tools go off line. TAPs also offer the versatility of connecting out-of-band tools for monitoring and in-line tools that need to act on traffic for security purposes. There is some additional cost to adding TAPs to links but this option will provide 100% accuracy for monitoring and the versatility to connect both out-of-band and in-line tools.


Networks supporting remote medical services are growing fast in the Covid world. Hopefully, these networks will help patients feel more comfortable connecting with medical professionals for routine and emergency services. Providing critical medical services will require constant network monitoring and robust security services. Network Critical professionals can help develop high availability architectures safely connecting monitor and security tools to critical links. Mobile carrier and medical enterprise network engineers can go to www.networkcritical.com/support for more information.


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