SD-WAN Solution for Telemedicine

Mar 27, 2020

Until 2018, telemedicine and remote health consultations were prohibited in Germany. But recently and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, legal restrictions were lifted. The Health Innovation Hub in Germany took action and published a list of trusted telemedicine services.

Today, governments and organizations are seeing telemedicine as a viable and potential healthcare service. But still, there are many challenges to overcome.

One of the biggest challenges is that proper telemedicine technology is not available everywhere. Although at the most fundamental level, telemedicine requires patients to be connected via fast network throughputs and using high-quality cameras to be able to video-conference with the doctor. On top of that, many people are also concerned with their sensitive and confidential information.

Lanner-America’s universal Customer Premises Equipment uCPE, NCA-1515, and NCA-2510 provides the solution. This appliance can be installed at a remote location and connected to a central healthcare facility via SD-WAN. The uCPE provides secure and reliable connectivity between healthcare institutions, doctors, practitioners, and patients.

Telemedicine Challenges: Between compromised security and lack of resources

Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, has one purpose, to reach patients that don’t have easy access to healthcare and provide next-generation services. But of course, the main challenge for a long time for the healthcare institution, doctor, and patient, has been resources and how to get them to the remote areas. They want to reach patients such as the elderly or people living in remote or isolated locations.

Telemedicine uses modern technology to allow doctors to provide healthcare to patients when they are not physically present with each other. The practice is usually performed through HIPAA-compliant, examination video cameras, scopes, vital signs monitors, ECGs, ultrasound probes, and more.

Telemedicine improves healthcare by increasing access to care and reducing costs, but at the same time, it poses new technical challenges.

Two main challenges while implementing telemedicine:

  1. Data integrity and security. Telemedicine is useless if the doctor and patient can’t send and receive information. The patient’s sensitive data at rest or in transit is always at risk. There are regulations such as HIPAA that should be fulfilled to guarantee cybersecurity for the healthcare institution, doctor, and patient.
  2. Low video resolution and quality. Many doctors do not practice telemedicine because the low-resolution video is not appropriate for the patient’s examination. When a doctor gets video data, it is already low resolution either because of the source camera or the Internet bandwidth.

Healthcare organizations attempting to improve their telemedicine capacities and reach more people have no other choice than to extend their network in order to improve security and speed. Implementing a WAN (Wide Area Network) to deliver resources to those isolated and remote locations is the best decision, and this is where SD-WAN can make a huge difference.

The Solution: Deploying SD-WAN over a uCPE

SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) is one of the leading SDN/NFV solutions today. It is transforming how networks are deployed and managed in almost every sector including healthcare. It replaces traditional WAN and allows easier deployment, optimization, and security for branch health clinics.

Just like other network functions, such as routing, switching, firewalling, or intrusion detection/prevention, which must run on a Customer Premises Equipment (CPE), SD-WAN also needs to run as a network function on the premises. All of those communication services do not need to run on separate equipment, this is where the general-purpose platform uCPE (universal CPE) comes into place.

The uCPE

The uCPE is equipped with a wide range of wireless and wired interfaces that provide inward communication for medical devices, computers, and cameras, and outward interfaces that connect to the Internet. A uCPE plays a crucial role in network virtualization because it can support multiple Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), which are the building blocks of the NFV framework. These VNFs can be pushed from the primary healthcare facility to the uCPE deployed on the branch (remote clinic). A VNF or network application can be routing, next-gen firewalling, antivirus, IPS/IDS, and of course, SD-WAN.

To be able to virtualize the hardware-based network functions and run multiple VNFs in parallel, a uCPE device comes with a generic Intel-x86 multi-core CPU. These uCPEs also come pre-validated with the most essential VNF and SD-WAN providers.

  1. Lanner’s NCA-1515 is a desktop network appliance for vCPE/uCPE edge security. This uCPE solution provides a full array of flexibility in deployment and security. NCA-1515 can run all network functions on-premises, and deliver significant throughput optimization when running multiple compute-intensive VNFs.
  2. Another example of a uCPE, is Lanner’s NCA-2510, which is a virtualization-optimized network appliance designed for vCPE, uCPE, SD-WAN and SD-Security. This uCPE appliance is capable of supporting multiple uCPEs (and can be used as a uCPE controller). Similar to NCA-1515, NCA-2510 can also be deployed at on-premises and receive network services on-demand, including SD-WAN.

Benefits of the Solution

The SD-WAN technology reduces and even eliminates the challenges from the traditional WAN MPLS solutions. Cost, security, and deployment times are no longer an issue. SD-WAN also reduces the dependency on expensive proprietary equipment, which is crucial for implementing telehealth in remote areas.

All these SD-WAN benefits are viable through the generic uCPE. Leveraging uCPE can ignite new services and revenue, including telemedicine.

How can SD-WAN benefit healthcare?

  • Scalability as medical institutions grow. Traditionally healthcare organizations connected their WAN, headquarters, and branch clinics through MPLS. Unfortunately, aggregating links manually wasn’t very scalable, as adding a new branch was very costly and would take weeks, or even months. SD-WAN, on the other hand, allows zero-touch provisioning and seamless implementation, making new telemedicine clinic branches integrate with the headquarters in no time and at a low price.
  • Simplify WAN connectivity between healthcare branches. Healthcare is a rapid-shifting industry. Network flexibility and agility are key when adding, moving, or closing down temporary healthcare facilities quickly. SD-WAN simplifies wide-area connectivity between healthcare branches. Its fast (zero-touch) provisioning allows quick and simple WAN deployments.
  • Reliable and fast connections between health branches. An SD-WAN solution can create a reliable WAN connectivity for different network links, including public broadband Internet, MPLS, wireless broadband (LTE). To ensure reliability, SD-WAN can also provide link monitoring and optimization for parameters like packet loss, latency, and congestion. On top of that, technicians can also optimize the traffic of specific health-critical applications to use the fastest transmission media.
  • Maintain patient’s data secured. SD-WAN separates the traffic of control planes, data, and management, making it inherently secured. By itself, SD-WAN is already secure, but you can also configure simple Access Control Lists, cap the bandwidth of a certain type of traffic, create IPSec tunnels, separate traffic, etc. This security allows maintaining the patient’s data and communication link secured. On top of that, it is also easier to fulfill HIPAA compliance and other health-related data regulations.
  • Fast and reliable connectivity for seamless cloud-based video conferencing.

Nowadays, apps and services are moving to the cloud and becoming SaaS-based. Unfortunately, traditional WAN connectivity, MPLS was never designed for SaaS and cloud services. Telemedicine empowered by SD-WAN technology, however, improves access to health for countless patients that can’t attend health centers such as elders, or people living in isolated and remote areas. The high-quality video conferencing provided by SD-WAN allows the practitioner and patient in the remote location to experience as if the doctor was present.

Final Words

Deploying WAN in a branch health clinic, optimizing it, and securing it, is no easy task. As mentioned before, technologies such as MPLS can be very expensive, and on top of that, it takes a long time to provision.

Without a doubt, having the right digital health infrastructure provides countless benefits during challenging crises and pandemics, such as recent COVID-19. A fast response can make all the difference.

And telemedicine technology via SD-WAN can make healthcare available to all people, quick, fast, and accessible.

Lanner-America’s NCA-1515 or NCA-2510 uCPE solutions can be deployed to provide SD-WAN connectivity between branches and headquarters. The SD-WAN solution can make Telemedicine available and empower health institutions to scale easily, protect patient’s data, and provide seamless healthcare services remotely.

For more information on the uCPE solution for SD-WAN, please request a quote.

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