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Az Alma

New AZ Alma hospital site is the epitome of the Secure Digital Workspace

Background

Bringing two hospital campuses together in one newly-built hospital is already a feat. But further digitizing patient care whilst guaranteeing patient privacy concurrently is an even greater challenge for the IT department. The cooperation with SecureLink brought a solution for AZ Alma.

AZ Alma is a general hospital in Eeklo in East Flanders, and has resulted from a merger in 2003 between the Elisabeth Hospital in Sijsele and the Heilig-Hartkliniek in Eeklo. The activities of the merged hospital were spread over two campuses until the beginning of 2017. In early April, a newly-built hospital was inaugurated for all general hospital services. Just like other hospitals, AZ Alma is an organization that must run round the clock. Furthermore, the healthcare sector is calling more and more on the latest technology to provide optimal care for patients. A lot of devices and systems are now connected to the computer network. “In addition to the conventional computers and servers, there are all sorts of medical devices, telemetry, the digital surgical center, telephony, and the cooking and building management system. The impact of IT on our organization has become immense. You can in fact say that the computer network constitutes the backbone of the hospital,”

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Challenge

Internal and external challenges

The healthcare sector is faced with a number of major internal and external challenges. Internally, AZ Alma has started to implement further digitization and computerization. The most important aspect is the introduction of the Electronic Patient Record (EPD). Key concepts in this transition are the availability and continuity of the data, the general performance of the system and security. Affordability is also very important in the healthcare sector. Measurement is the key to knowledge, and that is why the IT department has been asked to map as many processes as possible and to monitor the various systems — preferably automatically.

In addition, Fritz Defloor also sees external challenges through the increasing number of cooperation structures in which AZ Alma is involved. “AZ Alma is only one part of the care chain. So cooperation is absolutely necessary. It is essential to share information between other institutions, care providers such as general practitioners and the patient. This is because of the increasing complexity of medicine and the rising cost of healthcare. It also entails a number of challenges. We must try to contain the increasing risks of cybercrime and guarantee privacy.”

New building with new network

An attempt has been made to address all these challenges that came with the new AZ Alma building. The IT project consists of two components. On the one hand, this entailed the defining and implementing of a state-of-the-art computer network that attends to current needs and is ready for the future. We provide a few figures to illustrate the scope: about 7,000 outlets, 500 WiFi antennas and 700 km of copper cabling. More than half of these outlets – end point devices, but also sensors – are already being used.

The second component consisted of facilitating the move from the two old hospital sites to the new building. The new hospital has a capacity of 513 beds and all in all, there are 1,250 staff members and 130 doctors. “The aim was to separate the moving of the IT infrastructure from the moving of patients and staff. To that end, we also had to connect the two existing campuses to the new hospital network because we were still active on the old campuses. Naturally, all this had to be done with a minimum downtime,” Fritz Defloor adds.

Technology used

Solution

Knowhow as added value

AZ Alma did not choose a partner for this project overnight. Fritz Defloor: “Offering good technology is one thing. But having expertise in the products in-house, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of the hospital sector, plus a pro-active approach and project organization were perhaps even more important criteria for us. And they were met optimally in the proposal from SecureLink.”

Setting up and implementing the computer network in the new hospital building took a year and a half. It was a very intense period during which some 30 people were actively involved – from SecureLink and the hospital’s own IT department. Fritz Defloor: “What I remember most from that period is the intensive cooperation, cross-fertilization and passion with which this project was seen through. Both our own AZ Alma staff and the SecureLink people gave their utmost.”

It is precisely because of the mission-critical nature of a hospital, the complexity and related risks, that AZ Alma opted to entrust the management of the computer network in a managed services model to SecureLink. Fritz Defloor: “SecureLink draw on their expertise to make sure not only that our system is properly set up, but that it continues to run efficiently.” The managed services model provides AZ Alma the guarantee that their network will remain operational under optimal circumstances, so that the staff of our own IT team can focus on the business and can create more added value for the organization.”

Satisfied staff

After half a year in the new hospital building, the improvements are clearly visible. The new computer network is much more efficient and stable than those of the old hospital sites, of course. But the impact for our own ICT staff has been substantial. Fritz: “Many new technologies and possibilities have been implemented with the new network. But we can already see that our ICT helpdesk is contacted far less concerning problems with the infrastructure. They can thus concentrate more on other tasks and there immediately is an immediate return effect.” All applications can now be managed centrally, so the ICT team can help a large part of the organization rapidly.

Secure Digital Workspace

The greatest impact however is on the organization and the way of working. AZ Alma has opted to introduce VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) in combination with SSO (Single Sign-On) in order to facilitate the entering, processing and storage of patient data for doctors and nurses. The advantage is that every care provider can now switch between sessions, workplaces and devices rapidly with his or her personal account (connected to his access badge).  In addition to the conventional workstations, AZ Alma provides 5 COWs (Computers on Wheels) with VDI and SSO at each care unit. Thanks to such computers on wheels, doctors and nurses can consult the patient’s record on the spot to document and supplement the care provided. Apps or sessions can now be opened and data retrieved far faster without having to log in each time. The medication planning can also be consulted and monitored easily by the morning, afternoon and night shift. The risk of error is reduced to virtual nil as a result.

“This new way of working has a positive dynamic on our care service. Both doctors and nursing staff are delighted to be able to work flexibly in a modern context,” says Fritz. He illustrates this point with a concrete example. It does not matter any longer where doctors or nurses prepare their patient record. They can work on it from any other shared work station. “Doctors can work on a patient record at home or at the polyclinic and then consult it further immediately when treating the patient in AZ Alma.”

Another consideration: how to address security in such a flexible context? The important thing in this ‘Secure Workspace’ concept is that it enables AZ Alma to provide all the elements that the staff needs (apps, data, etc.) in a secure way, as everything runs in the hospital’s own data center. We deliberately opted to have only one partner involved. SecureLink has set up this Secure Digital Workspace concept with VDI and Single Sign-On in our hospital and has rolled out the new computer network too. The reason is that they are very closely intertwined, and in this way we can also ensure that the various components are integrated to the maximum,” concludes Fritz Defloor.

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