The digitalization of healthcare has increased the demand for IT systems monitoring and made it a mission-critical undertaking for health systems’ IT departments. Brian St. Jean, presales system engineer at Paessler, a monitoring software company, says IT systems monitoring should occur in four areas: digital medical devices, the health system’s integration engine, communication between disparate medical systems, and traditional IT monitoring.
The digitalization of healthcare has increased the demand for IT systems monitoring and made it a mission-critical undertaking for health systems’ IT departments.
Brian St. Jean, presales system engineer at Paessler, a monitoring software company, says IT systems monitoring should occur in four areas: digital medical devices, the health system’s integration engine, communication between disparate medical systems, and traditional IT monitoring.
“In healthcare, you don’t want to just wait until something goes down. You want to know when something is slightly affected and not running optimally,” he says. “It’s a slightly different way of looking at things, because we need to get ahead of the curve so nothing is ever broken.”
1. Why Healthcare Organizations Should Monitor Digital Medical Devices
The broad array of digital medical devices in healthcare organizations — ranging from rolling medical carts to small handheld devices — all have specific elements that must be monitored, St. Jean says.
“For example, with an imaging device, monitoring means being able to understand how many images are already on that machine before they go over to the picture archiving and communication system, as well as monitoring the servers that take care of everything from the integration engine to the lab information systems,” he says.
Monitoring those devices also means having the capability to tie all that information together and understand how well the network is working holistically.
“It’s understanding what’s critical to the user and monitoring those elements,” he says. “If you see the battery life for a device is under 20 percent, you can dispatch somebody up to that floor to figure out the issue. Maybe it needs to be plugged back in to charge. You never want the nurses worrying about IT stuff.”
2. How Monitoring of the Integration Engine Benefits Healthcare
The integration engine has become the glue that bonds all the other systems together, St. Jean says, which makes the monitoring of this technology extremely important.
“It’s the piece that ties your lab information system to your patient information. Tying all these things together, integrating it and understanding how well it’s running is a gigantic piece of how well your overall medical facilities are running,” he says. “Without having that understanding, you’re just in the dark looking at a bunch of silos.”
The first step includes basic server monitoring to provide constant awareness of disk space, RAM utilization and CPU or network traffic issues.
“Take the time on each device to set it up and understand what it’s being used for,” he says, adding that in today’s hospital environments, monitoring of heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems is also on the traditional IT docket
And in healthcare, St. Jean notes, when it comes to systems monitoring, the stakes are elevated. “You never want IT to be in the way of patient care, ever,” he says.
“No matter what you’re using as your integration engine, you’re going to need to monitor that server overall to ensure everything is running in line with what I would term your internal service-level agreement,” St. Jean says.
He adds that health systems often underestimate the size of server needed, and the concern is always that hospitals will hit the edge of what their server can do more quickly than expected. It’s important to know where those limits are right away.
We never want a bottleneck. We never want IT to be a reason that a patient doesn’t get what they need in time.
3. It’s Important to Monitor Communication Between Medical Systems
For health systems that need to run communications between different medical systems, St. Jean says it’s important to monitor the security of the information between locations.
“It’s important to know the firewall is in working order so you can make sure your HIPAA information is locked down,” he says. “Monitoring the security side of things as you’re connecting to different healthcare organizations is central.”
St. Jean recommends a consultative approach, which requires knowing who uses these systems and what their needs are.
“From an IT perspective, if we can understand the way those users actually use technology — as opposed to the way management hopes they’ll use it — that changes your outlook on what the best approach to monitoring is,” he says.
He also argues for a measured approach that perhaps starts with one department and is built together with the medical professionals who use the technology.
4. Don’t Forget About Monitoring Traditional IT in Healthcare
Monitoring of traditional IT systems is critical, St. Jean says, because it’s the backbone that supports all other systems.
A first step to traditional IT infrastructure monitoring is to figure out the mission-critical pieces that would affect patient care if those systems were to go down.
“Those are the pieces you’ve got to look at first and make sure you’re monitoring,” he says. “I hate to say it, but monitor everything — everything you can monitor, monitor.”
While that level of monitoring takes time to set up, once you’ve done it, notifications can be tailored to report only on the components that are not working properly.