VA, HHS hindered by IT complexity

'The networks in many cases are out of date and burdened with proprietary protocols.'
By Government Health IT Staff
09:32 AM

Federal government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, are being hindered in carrying out their missions due to growing complexity of their IT networks.

A recent report from MeriTalk surveyed 200 government IT executives on behalf of network solutions provider Brocade, and found that the agencies are struggling with increasing network complexity.
The study found that more than half of agencies believe the complexity of their networks has increased over the past year, and 68 percent of the respondents believe network complexity restricts their ability to implement new technologies, services or capabilities.
An overwhelming majority – 81 percent – of network managers said they believe that network complexity can slow or halt IT performance objectives.
The respondents estimated their agency could save 18 percent of their IT budget, or $14.8 billion government-wide, by reducing network complexity by half.
IT managers at the DHHS, DOD and VA are facing all of these challenges, Tony Celeste, Brocade's director, U.S. Civilian Agencies, said.
"Today's government healthcare network was architected decades ago, long before this rapid evolution creating tremendous complexity in the network as it struggled to keep pace with a world dominated by connectivity," Celeste said. "The networks in many cases are out of date and burdened with proprietary protocols hindering the ability to leverage new, more innovative, cost effective technologies that are simpler."
Agency operations are now closely linked to agency performance.
"Network connectivity plays a role in every aspect regulatory, patient care, privacy (HIPAA), records management, protection, medical research and development, benefits administration and much more," Celeste said. "It encompasses the connectivity of mobile sensor devices monitoring a patient to large secure data centers managing health records and the numbers of connected devices and system generated data continues to explode at an exponential rate."
The growing complexity of healthcare networks and the costs for supporting them cannot be sustained in the long run, the MeriTalk report found.
"As they continue to face budget and staff cuts while demands increase, healthcare agencies need a cure – not just Band-Aids – for managing the huge data volumes and sharing information with healthcare providers, other partners, patients and researchers," Celeste added. "Agency networks are critical for transporting vital health data securely ensuring privacy, but they are sprawling and getting more and more complex – leading to downtime and ballooning costs that public health departments just can't afford. Simplifying networks can lead to cost savings and improved efficiency that directly impact agency mission and patient outcomes, as our latest report supports."
To reduce network complexity in healthcare and all agency networks, proprietary network protocols need to be reduced as much as possible, the report said.
"Agencies must mandate the use of open, non-proprietary standards to simplify their networks," said Celeste. "The resulting networks will use new innovative technologies and leverage products from multiple vendors. This will create a more reliable, secure and lower cost network poised to exploit virtualization and software defined networking. This modernized network will empower government health IT with the agility required to meet the demanding needs of their mission to ensure all Americans can live healthy and successful lives."
This story first appeared in Government Health IT here.