Test & Measurement

Secure hospital data centre paves way for networked healthcare

24th September 2019
Anna Flockett

A hospital is a complex system: Data is often needed very quickly or has to be passed on quite fast. In order to create an expedient network for all parties involved, data must be collected, processed and stored. Various administrative tasks and treatment processes are teamwork, in which the patients themselves as well as doctors, medical staff, but also externals such as pharmacies, health insurances and outpatient physicians must be included. 

At the same time, the highest security requirements for the sensitive patient’s data must be met. The Austrian company S&T AG has now set up a data centre for one of its healthcare customers that meets the healthcare’s specific requirements while still offering all the advantages of a public and private cloud solution.

Cloud computing is an ongoing IT trend that is already enjoying growing popularity in the private sector and has already established itself within many large corporations. The potential of cloud technologies for use in healthcare is considered enormous, as processes within a hospital can be greatly simplified as a result. In addition, a complete collection, processing and analysis of medical raw data can be used for research and therapy. In China, for example, more than half of all hospitals with more than 500 beds have already introduced electronic patient records. By 2020, 1.4 billion patient files are expected to be digitally available. This volume is being supplemented by the fact that health insurances and providers of medical devices are increasingly pushing projects and activities that exploit the possibilities of digitisation, the German newspaper Boersen-Zeitung reported at the beginning of 2018. However, conventional cloud concepts also entail risks despite all the technological advantages they offer. Therefore, they must meet the healthcare system’s high security requirements in democratically constituted Western societies, especially with regard to sensitive patient’s data.

In German legislation, for example, patient data is classified as a "special category of personal data". They are considered particularly worthy of protection because they can provide information about the state of health, but also the ethnic origin or sexual orientation of patients. The entry into force of the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has considerably aggravated the consequences of data breakdowns. Without supplementary precautions, a conventional public cloud is therefore unsuitable for health data.

Specifically designed data centres
The Austrian company S&T AG therefore operates a computer centre in Vienna that is specially designed to meet the high demands of the healthcare sector. It has the International TÜVIT* Trusted Site Infrastructure Level 3 certification and thus corresponds to the highest certifiable security level for providers of hosting services in Germany and Austria. In addition, the data centre complies with all legal requirements for storing sensitive patient’s data. The fact that the data centre had previously been used by a bank and thus had already met strict security requirements helped in this respect. In addition to the infrastructure for the private cloud, the S&T Group also offers a comprehensive range of services to ensure ongoing operations.

This includes, among other things, the round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week offer for a professional IT service desk in accordance with ITIL standards. After all, a hospital has neither a weekend nor an evening off. S&T also provides a cloud service model that combines a public cloud and a private cloud in a so-called hybrid cloud. Service personnel, specially certified for Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, are responsible for operation and maintenance. The private cloud runs on the alternative operating system Linux with Open Stack.

An Austrian hospital operator is already using the data centre efficiently. In total, patient’s data from 27 clinics in Lower Austria with 7,800 beds are managed there. This means that up to 21,500 users must be able to access the data around the clock in the hospital cloud.

Embedded computing for the healthcare sector
The advantages of an outsourced hospital cloud concept are numerous (and in principle similar for all industries): operations are left to professionals whose core business is hosting a secure data centre. IT is therefore not just a downstream department in a hospital's operations. Accordingly, the focus is on availability and security. The alleged disadvantages of clouds are more than offset by modern cloud concepts. The appeal of knowing on which hard disk the data is stored is becoming less and less important. Nevertheless, topics such as bandwidth and latency times for communication via Internet and secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) cannot be ignored.

Due to physical limitations, for example, reliable device control in real time via cloud can be ruled out. Data processing often takes seconds – instead of milliseconds – until the data arrives at the device again. Further challenges are large amounts of data, their transmission, evaluation and analysis in the cloud and their return to the point of origin.

For this reason, new architectures have been devised that offer the advantages of the cloud on the one hand, and meet the special requirements of the healthcare sector (and other industries) with high data volumes and guaranteed availability on the other. However, since the data stream runs securely over a public network, services that are to be available without interruption and with minimal delay, must be provided locally in edge computing.

The "edge" to the network are the sensors or actuators that generate data or have the data to be passed back – in hospitals, these are the medical devices or end devices, e.g. tablet computers for electronically supported rounds. Edge computing therefore means providing computing and storage capacity prior to the transition to the network, close to the data’s point of origin.

Microsoft and other players on the market, for example, offer a solid cloud infrastructure for this, which is constantly being further developed and is at a very high security level. Nevertheless, Microsoft and other large public cloud providers often lack the individual adaptability and tailoring of their solutions to the respective industries and customer needs.

SUSiEtec connects devices and cloud
SUSiEtec is used at the interface between medical devices and the cloud and can be adapted directly to the respective application, as middleware for IoT, so to speak. It is the link between the devices, converts protocols, filters data and – if necessary – processes them directly on site. The SUSiEtec IoT Software Framework is flexibly configurable and is individually adapted to existing medical technology and healthcare solutions, in order to collect and analyse patient and device data on site. This enables the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth and storage capacity in the cloud to be met.

Edge Computing with SUSiEtec uses the computing power of the local network to control time-critical processes on site. Data is cached locally, compressed and forwarded to the cloud according to predefined rules. This increases process reliability, decreases bandwidth usage and thus saves operating costs. It also meets the requirements for guaranteed shortest response times in the healthcare sector. SUSiEtec supports the connections between the Microsoft Azure Cloud, the data centre in Vienna and, of course, on-premises in the hospital; the multi- or hybrid cloud becomes reality.

SUSiEtec thus allows hospitals to pursue a hybrid and scalable approach to their cloud-based IT scenarios by combining the advantages of on-premises solutions with a professional cloud infrastructure. That is why SUSiEtec is fully integrated into Kontron's Gateway, Fog Computer and Server products, many of which are already Microsoft Azure certified. SUSiEtec can also be used independently of Kontron hardware and in conjunction with other cloud architectures already in use by the customer.

In addition, SUSiEtec already has the ability to integrate Machine Learning to propose its own decisions using Artificial Intelligence methods based on available data; this of course does not apply to decisions about the treatment or care of patients. But predictive maintenance, for example, allows vital equipment to be serviced or replaced (or at least shut down as planned) in good time before a failure.

Strong partners when it comes to healthcare solutions
The S&T subsidiary Kontron supports major manufacturers of medical equipment in the development of their customer-specific products. Within the framework of this cooperation, the focus is on top quality, ease of use, cost efficiency and solid connectedness. Kontron has been dealing with the complex requirements of medical applications and systems for over two decades and has thus acquired expertise in medical device development. Kontron products are used throughout the industry worldwide, including diagnostics (e.g. ultrasound), therapy (e.g. dialysis), patient monitoring, home healthcare, and clinical IT.

Together with the parent company S&T, a leading provider of IT services and solutions headquartered in Linz, Austria, the group of companies also offers many years of experience in the combination of IT (information technology) and OT (operating technology). The S&T Group has accompanied the Cloud Computing IT trend for many years and is an experienced IT service provider (IT infrastructure, Microsoft licenses, SAP services, etc.). The goal of the corporate group of Kontron and S&T is to offer manufacturers of medical devices a complete solution in sophisticated computer technology and IT know-how. End customers receive industry-specific, individual solutions from S&T for the operation and maintenance of their infrastructure.

Conclusion
The healthcare market is constantly changing, driven by the Internet of Things and the associated focus on networking, security, scalability and sustainability. From IoT devices to infrastructure systems to far beyond data collection, modern IoT-based medical care enables smart, real-time applications that can improve treatment quality and significantly reduce healthcare costs. These goals are particularly important in view of demographic change and the growing shortage of skilled workers.

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