How “Smart Hospitals” Handle Mission-Critical IT: They Don’t Compete For Campus Resources
By Sonia Sexton, DP Facilities, Inc.

EHRs: Not Just For Hospital Use Anymore?
Over the last several decades, the adoption of automated healthcare systems has dramatically accelerated in healthcare organizations, especially in the hospital campus environment. In fact, we are already transitioning from the “digital hospital” phase to the “smart hospital” phase, when it comes to the deployment of automated systems in hospitals that use state-of-the-art IT. This automation has led to specific service-level requirements for uptime and availability whether they operate with on-premise IT or with offsite IT service providers.

So, the emerging requirements of innovative patient care services and tools — such as electronic health records (EHR), automated care management, point-of-care technology linked to EHR, automated case documentation, and physician order entry linked to EHR — demand mission-critical primary and emergency power resources on a hospital campus. These power resources serve many missions, including basic life safety in the buildings (such as emergency lighting and fire protection) as well as supporting aforementioned patient care systems that could be IT related as well as mechanical.

Thus, hospitals have a greater risk profile in the event of an outage and need to consider a wide variety of additional risk factors that they need to manage in the event of power loss, including building systems, medical devices and IT applications, and monitoring capabilities that maintain the lives of many patients in residence. And, most critically, hospitals need to consider the imperative of HIPAA-compliant data backup and disaster recovery options that they can rely on during these emergency situations. While utility power has proven to be highly scalable and reliable throughout most parts of the United States, backup on-site generators have had a more mixed record. These assets require large fixed-cost investments, have limited capacity, and in the event of insufficient power or loss of service may be subject to aggressive surge pricing from suppliers.

In certain situations, drawbacks associated with on-site backup power might be sustainable in a static demand environment. However, the modern hospital environment faces increasing competition for mission-critical power resources within the organization, particularly with regard to the rapid-scale growth of automated systems and their related IT power requirements. A typical hospital IT environment involves traditional business requirements (such as employee email, files, operating systems and workflow management systems, administrative and financial back office systems, communications/telecom, building operations, and security systems) and electronically controlled access points (such as elevators, power-assisted doors and other items). These are typical mission-critical assets, which are supported by backup generator power that can maintain operations for several days at a time until fuel to replenish generators arrives or primary power is restored.

As the mission-critical elements of both facility management and automated patient care have experienced significant growth, the related IT storage and processing demands associated with patient care and hospital operations also have  accelerated. These developments, in turn, have placed significantly greater demands on campus-based power backup, which has a finite capacity. In the event of an emergency brought about by a power outage, any requirements not explicitly tied to the preservation of human life must forfeit their power consumption. Such forfeiture could result in the loss of power to a variety of previously defined mission-critical IT resources and capabilities.

However, such a tradeoff is unnecessary. Hospitals can manage all of their mission-critical systems by allocating on-campus resources to only those operations, whether IT or mechanical, that are directly tied to patient care and must be co-located with patients. All other IT resources and capabilities can be located in HITRUST CSF certified off-site data infrastructure, with appropriate power backup and support, that does not compete with finite campus resources and which does not require a large capital investment by the hospital organization. Using off-site data infrastructure facilitates backup disaster recovery, frees up on-campus real estate and redundant power capacity, increases uptime and availability of its services, and enhances a hospital’s ability to fulfill its overall mission without unnecessary, risky, expensive tradeoffs — making it an integral part of a “smart hospital” strategy.

About The Author

Sonia Sexton is chief security officer for DP Facilities, Inc., which owns and operates the Mineral Gap data center in Wise, Virginia. She has more than 20 years of experience in significant security roles within major federal contracting firms.

About DP Facilities, Inc.

DP Facilities, Inc., is 100 percent U.S.-citizen-owned and operated. Our flagship data center, Mineral Gap — located in Wise, Virginia (also known as “The Safest Place on Earth”) — is HITRUST CSF certified, demonstrating that Mineral Gap’s BMS, EPMS, SOC, and NOC systems have met key regulations and industry-defined requirements in colocation, including hybrid cloud, for healthcare and is appropriately managing risk, including HIPAA compliance. Mineral Gap is the first concurrently designed and constructed Tier III data center in Virginia, certified by Uptime Institute for 99.98-percent availability. Mineral Gap is simply one of the best data centers in the US.