How CIOs are helping hospitals beat the Zika virus

Rob Strechay, VP of Product

Rob Strechay, Vice President of Product, Zerto

Healthcare IT is a multi-billion dollar market, especially as electronic health records are now the normative means of collecting patient data. As technology continues to evolve, it is being used in interesting ways to help hospitals stop Zika and other viruses from becoming epidemics. A critical though underplayed discussion is how are CIOs ensuring critical applications and the data that feeds them are secured to maintain operating continuity to fight the spread of disease and improve patient care.

A large healthcare alliance is a good example of the connection between data collection, protection and epidemic prevention. The company I consider a model example of how CIOs can ensure they’re prepared to monitor for even the worst of epidemics is a performance improvement alliance of approximately 3,600 U.S. hospitals and 120,000 other providers. This alliance has a simple goal: to improve the health of communities they serve. As such, their number one priority is ensuring care providers are confident they have the best tools and data to support the superior clinical outcomes.

One of the company’s key products is a clinical surveillance system that gathers patient data in real time to help providers monitor and protect patients from infections, harmful drug interactions and other adverse events.

A key use of this technology is in the area of epidemic monitoring and prevention. The system checks for patterns of symptoms across patients, departments and even hospitals so that clinicians can identify anomalies. This augments clinicians’ physical assessments with an added layer of protection. Data is collected using the Health Level-7 or HL7 – the protocol used for data transfer within a hospital as the appliance intercepts the HL7 messages and applies business logic onto those to find any recurring or relevant anomalies. 

Infection preventionists are using these systems to monitor patient biometrics and look for anomalies in those biometrics such as changes in patient state to warrant detention or other responses by the medical team. Traditionally hospitals have had to wait for physical observation of abnormalities, but they did not have access to all patient data once, so things could be easily missed. Today, data collection and reporting can mitigate the spread of viruses via rapid, automated analysis of multitudes of patient data points across an entire hospital system instead of physical observations and manual information gathering and tracking.

The continuous data collection approach is not only novel, but it could pose a large problem if the system were to fail. The alliance’s IT team recognized that if the data collection system ever incurred interruption, either from human-error, natural disaster, or even criminal activities such as hacks or ransomware, data fidelity would be severely compromised. Proper diagnoses depend on robust surveillance of all available data, 24/7, in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. A breach in data collection would jeopardize the accuracy all of the collected data.

But protection of this kind of critical data is not simple. Primarily based on SQL servers, the average ingest rate of many terabytes of data makes protection of the system complicated, particularly if a requirement is to never lose any data. The hospital and provider alliance needed a solution that could provide uninterrupted service for the entire system, even if an outage were to occur – not a simple ask.

To do this, the alliance turned to Zerto for its continuous data replication capabilities to help solve the problem. With data replicated in real time to a journal located at the recovery site, the alliance can now protect data with only seconds of delay from the actual creation of that data. If an outage does occur data can be recovered with miniscule data loss, only six to seven seconds, on average. In addition, this approach uses Virtual Protection Groups (VPGs) to ensure that the applications being protected can be easily recovered. Should an outage occur and the care facility needs to switch operations to their recovery site, this can be done within minutes with recovered applications working just as they did prior to the outage. Everything gets booted up as before, databases and files are recovered in the order they were created, and employees see no difference in application performance.

Preventing the spread of illness is not something often associated with data protection, but in today’s modern hospitals business continuity is playing a critical role in making sure that not just critical data collection and applications are available to medical practitioners at all times to prevent epidemics.

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