Hospitals make the most of Ontario’s high-speed network

Ontario hospitals using Smart Systems for Health Agency’s high-speed network for health card validation (HCV) have been able to consolidate their networks and increase bandwidth, saving them $40,000 a month in maintaining and securing a separate circuit.

Fifty-two out of 155 hospital corporations such as Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) recently made the switch to validate health cards over the SSHA’s ONE Network connection, which is offered to them free of charge. Hospitals connected to the shared network, which was created by SSHA in 2002, can access the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to validate health cards instead of using a separate network circuit.

Before TBRHSC moved to Smart Systems for health card validation, it was using GoNet as a separate link to Kingston. The external connection was managed by integration and consulting firm EDS. By using SSHA’s network, Thunder Bay has been able to save money on monthly fees paid to EDS for service and support of the circuit.

“Before every time we had a new partner it was a lot of wasted time and effort to add these new networks to our health card validation,” said John Barro, the hospital’s manager of network operations. “With SSHA we take care of all of that ourselves. It’s enabled our staff to grow their skill set. It also allows us to establish encrypted connections to other hospitals.”

Likewise, Kingston General Hospital (KGH) has been able to reap substantial cost savings by getting rid of its monthly charge from Bell for a permanent lease line, which runs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per month.

“That saves us money because we don’t have to pay for a lease line back to the Ministry for health card validation,” said Lester Ferrell, the hospital’s network administrator. “Right now we’re doing it for free over the province’s network.”

Cost savings aside, hospitals are also benefiting from fewer problems with managing the security around the network, said Linda Weaver, chief technology officer at SSHA.

“Hospitals now have one firewall to deal with and not many firewalls,” said Weaver, adding the network is a secure, VPN connection. “There’s one access into the ministry so the ministry is also not dealing with multiple firewalls.”

Kingston General’s Ferrell said his hospital also only lets traffic out on certain ports uses an enterprise class firewall for added security.

“There’s less equipment for us to manage because there’s fewer points of failure,” said Ferrell.

Since its inception three years ago, SSHA has been working with the province to get more applications like HCV put onto the network.

Thunder Bay, for example, uses the ONE Network for providing teleradiology services to numerous communities and hospitals in the Northwestern Ontario region. The hospital also uses the connection to share health-care information with other hospitals and to communicate with its local Community Care Access Centre site and the network for organ donation and transplant.

Similarly, Kingston General’s biggest use of the network is for connecting with other hospitals. This allows other hospitals in the region to access Kingston General’s lab systems and make print outs of reports without leaving their sites. Following sharing information with other hospitals, Kingston General’s next biggest use of the network is telehealth, which enables it to take part in video conferencing with its partners.

“This allows doctors to not leave their office,” said Ferrell. A Belleville, Ont.-based doctor, for example, that used to have to come into Kingston every week to do his rounds can now save himself a trip and meet with physicians via video conferencing.

Kingston General also uses the network to allow Queen’s School of Medicine to keep in touch with their residents as they post to different locations within the region.

SSHA is currently working with the province to move other applications that currently aren’t IP-based over to the network.

“We needed to have a network that was big enough to consolidate everything together and provide the security that was needed,” said SSHA’s Weaver. “As our network matures, they start to move all of these applications over.”

Both hospitals are also considering future uses for the network, such as rolling out Voice over IP phones to save on long-distance charges.

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