Inside the Ecosystem

Accelerating Digital Transformation in Healthcare and Life Sciences

Digitalization leads to innovation in patient care and clinical research

Tim Waters
Accelerating Digital Transformation in Healthcare and Life Sciences

In 2020, IT groups in healthcare and life sciences organizations advanced their digital transformation initiatives. The COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerant for digitalization at many healthcare and life sciences organizations and, as a result, projects planned for one year or longer were suddenly fast-tracked.

Advancing the capabilities of telehealth apps and supporting systems became a priority. While telehealth had been around for a while, those systems now had to work for healthcare professionals running sessions remotely. And it looks like telehealth is here to stay. According to a survey by PwC, in the U.S., 48% of all physicians said they treated patients virtually in 2020. On the patient side, nearly 88% of Americans want to continue using telehealth for non-urgent, low-touch care needs conditions.[i]

Almost all pharmaceutical and life sciences executives (98%) surveyed said they expect digital investment in clinical trials to increase next year. Expanding home-based clinical trials means fewer trips to a hospital or physician’s office, increases the pool of potential participants, and allows researchers to reach more diverse populations. In life sciences, researchers pivoted to conduct decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) in participants’ homes, requiring home healthcare providers, edge technologies, and telehealth visits. Home-based DCTs will further increase the volume of data to be transited securely from multiple locations.

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Operating costs increase while revenue decreases

Hospitals saw a dramatic drop in revenue (top line) while operating costs (bottom line) increased or remained steady. Unlike other businesses that closed their doors, hospitals remained open as COVID-19 patients inundated their emergency rooms.

From an IT and technology perspective, responsibilities increased from keeping the lights on and being available to service medical equipment in the clinical theater to supporting colleagues who were now working from home. Healthcare and life sciences CIOs and CTOs started taking a closer look at costs to determine what was necessary, such as mission-critical applications and provider systems, and what they could do without, like operating their own data centers.

Converting infrastructure management costs from CAPEX to OPEX

IT executives realized they could sell their data center assets for a profit or repurpose that real estate to build a new surgical theater or a day care. This approach allowed them to maintain architectural control of the environment and outsource the infrastructure management, which had the added benefit of reducing capital expenditures (reallocating costs from CAPEX to OPEX). Hospital IT groups would then have the option to work with a combination of colocation data centers, cloud providers and managed service providers, depending on their digital strategy.

It is important to work with a trusted partner who can help guide the development of a digital strategy, conduct a business impact analysis (TCO, ROI) and develop a solution with an optimized infrastructure design. This often implies that multiple entities will be part of the solution — but fear not — because the ideal trusted partner will also be that key integrator too.

In addition to cost savings, and with the aforementioned optimized infrastructure design, transferring both infrastructure and infrastructure management responsibility to external providers should increase overall application performance. Plus, via adoption of cloud-enabled digital technologies, more digital services can be readily consumed and integrated with existing care delivery services to provide better patient outcomes. Additionally, secure data-sharing with B2B counter-parties can be leveraged to optimize the care delivery process, medical research and time to revenue. Lastly, and assuming that the network foundation is constructed appropriately, lower latency, higher-bandwidth and more reliable network connectivity is feasibly cost-effective.

According to the fourth annual volume of the Global Interconnection Index (GXI), global private interconnection bandwidth capacity within the healthcare and life sciences industry is expected to grow annually by 48% between 2019 – 2023. This is a clear indicator of the accelerated digitalization of this industry worldwide.

Thriving healthcare and life sciences ecosystems on Platform Equinix

On Platform Equinix® there is an expanding global healthcare and life sciences ecosystem that supports a variety of provider, researcher and patient use cases. Powered by Equinix Fabric™ software-defined interconnection, users can access foundational digital infrastructure building blocks such as Equinix Metal™ to deploy compute and storage resources using an automated, interconnected bare metal-as-a-service. And Equinix Connect and Equinix Internet Exchange™ deliver high-performance, low-latency connectivity so users can access digital infrastructure on Platform Equinix via the public internet and cost-effective, scalable IP peering and internet service provider (ISP) aggregation. Network Edge services from Equinix enable the deployment of network functions virtualization (NFV) infrastructure from leading providers at distributed edge locations in minutes, without additional hardware.

These solutions are all integrated on Equinix’s global platform and support the following use cases around the world:

Use Case #1 – Remote Work, Health and Telehealth
This use case illustrates how the demand for remote workers to access key services from their homes, telehealth visits for low-touch patient care, decentralized clinical trials and higher quality medicine are now vital business requirements. As certain capabilities are being pushed to the cloud, such as patient portals, others are kept on-premises in the healthcare provider’s or Equinix data centers, such as clinical research organizations (CROs) and electronic healthcare records (EHRs). These hybrid architecture trends are driving the need for the fast and simple creation and interconnection of digital infrastructure at software speed.

Use case #2 – Medical Research
Modernization of medical based research is required as more data is being generated per patient medical record. That data becomes increasingly valuable in the development of new treatment modalities, new drug research, phenotyping, etc. Medical research involving many counter-parties, clouds, patients and volumes of data, requires foundational digital infrastructure with underpinning technologies for modernization. Via Equinix Fabric, clouds can be accessed via direct and secure connections to augment on-premises infrastructure with ephemeral storage for numerical processing. Long-term storage of medical research can also be contained in a medical data exchange on Equinix Metal. Providers that are supplying data on patients, either directly or through an EHR provider, can use Network Edge services to attach to the EHR platform using an OPEX versus a CAPEX deployment model.

Let’s take a look at the practical application of these use cases with examples of how Equinix customers achieved their digital transformation initiatives through the power of Platform Equinix and its global healthcare and life sciences ecosystem.

Sentara Healthcare accelerates remote patient care

A progressive U.S. healthcare provider, Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health, was prepared for the two-week 1,455% increase in its patients’ telemedicine usage in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia-based healthcare provider had proactively built a robust SD-WAN and hybrid multicloud foundation to integrate its network of 12 hospitals, 300 care centers and patient EHR and portal systems on Platform Equinix.

We’ve seen up to 60,000 visitors per day accessing our Sentara and Optima Patient Portal via the mobile app to view patient records, billing, insurance and test results. We are seeing 500% more demand from home interconnectivity over our network to that portal. If the global players like Equinix were not in this world, healthcare organizations like ours would not have been able to withstand this epidemic.” Matt Douglas, Chief Enterprise Architect, Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health

Atrium Health scales partner integration and patient care

Atrium Health, one of the largest healthcare providers in the Southeast, with over 15 million patient care interactions each year and employing over 70,000 teammates, has grown significantly through a number of strategic combinations. Scalability was key to speeding the integration with new partners, in addition to reducing its data center footprint. Atrium Health was also focused on securing and optimizing hybrid cloud, SaaS and partner ecosystem access and application deployment. Atrium Health implemented a combination of Cisco Unified Computing System, Application Centric Infrastructure and Nexus 9000, Dell hyper-converged server platforms, along with Equinix Fabric on Platform Equinix.

Using a hybrid multi-cloud architecture on the Cisco data center solution with Equinix Fabric significantly reduced our data center assets and enabled us to leverage optimized and secure low-latency connectivity to multiple cloud providers, SaaS and partner resources.” Eric Christian, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Atrium Health

3verest powers secure global collaboration in healthcare  

3verest, a global provider of private cloud solutions for healthcare, offers customers the option to share and consume system resources, data and applications on-demand–including from home. With operations in Australia, the UK and the US, 3verest needed to ensure seamless and secure interconnection for greater collaboration while maintaining country-specific data governance, privacy and protection.

Equinix Fabric enables us to provision virtual connections to private and public clouds in minutes rather than weeks, and quickly replicate its solutions globally by tapping the extensive ecosystem of healthcare providers on Platform Equinix. Equinix’s global presence, platform consistency and private interconnection, allows us to more easily comply with local data governance and privacy regulations for all our customers.” Scott Crawford, CEO, 3verest

Children’s Cancer Institute speeds breakthroughs in cancer research

Australia-based Children’s Cancer Institute took a precision medicine approach on their Zero Childhood Cancer Personalized Medicine Program. The research involves sharing datasets equal to a petabyte of data, per patient, with researchers worldwide. Children’s Cancer Institute needed to build a hybrid multicloud strategy to overcome the challenges of moving data stored on separate clouds to different locations by enabling one holistic, secure house using the cloud exchange.

The Equinix Cloud Exchange allows us to have a direct, secure connection into our cloud providers and connect globally to our collaborators so that we can seamlessly integrate with their systems and our systems.” Emilio Caspanello, ICT Manager, CCI

Royal Philips creates digital advantage in healthcare

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Royal Philips is a leader in people-focused innovation across diagnostic imaging, image-guided therapy, patient monitoring, and health informatics. With 82,000 employees across over 100 countries, Philips has a transformation strategy to be one of the world’s foremost pioneers of digital healthcare. Achieving that strategy meant investing in modern and flexible infrastructure.

The idea-to-market journey is no longer measured in months. Why should enterprise IT operate at a slower pace? To support the business, you’re going to have to provide an infrastructure and an application platform that leads the way instead of drags you down. When you transition to the cloud, you may need a broker when you are multicloud like we do for enterprise IT. That’s where Equinix acts like one of those brokers." Hans Koolen, Sr. Dir. of Commercial IT and Tech Innovations, Philips

These Equinix customers are leading the way to transform the delivery of healthcare and managing clinical research. To learn more about how Equinix is laying the building blocks for innovative healthcare, read Interconnecting the Digital Arteries for Healthcare Organizations of the Future.

[i] PwC, “Top health industry issues of 2021.”

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Tim Waters Sr. Manager, Equinix Research Group for FED, SLED & Healthcare and Life Sciences
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