Feature Story

Enabling technology for unpredictable times

healthcare infrastructure

Stories from Cisco customers adapting to COVID-19 challenges with business resilience.

By: Sean Michael Kerner

 

On a bright early spring day in south central Oregon, John Gaede, Director of Information Services at Sky Lakes Medical Center was called into a meeting with the top executives from his community hospital and the news was not good.

Officials from hospitals in neighboring Washington State were starting to see the impact of COVID-19. With scenes from the heart wrenching devastation in Italy fresh in everyone's mind, along with alarming concerns emerging from New York, it was time for the Sky Lakes community hospital to prepare for coming storm.

Like hospitals across the nation, there were concerns about the availability of the required personal protective equipment (PPE), that is necessary to keep staff safe. Projections for the impact of COVID-19 were "surreal" according to Gaede, with "Armageddon" type language being used to describe the coming pandemic wave.

"Our mission statement at the Sky Lakes Medical Center information services department is - we save lives and we innovate, in that order," Gaede said. 

Walking out of that meeting, the tasks at hand were considerable, with a need to essentially stand up a second hospital - in days. With determination and conviction, staff rose to the challenge. New drive-through evaluation centers were setup, remote telehealth was deployed and actions were taken within hospital premises to help reduce risks.

See also: Meeting customers in the moment with Cisco Cloud and Compute

In their arduous tasks, front line workers were supported with flexible IT infrastructure from Cisco that was able to rapidly scale to meet the unprecedented challenges. Gaede and his team had started a process in 2017 to refresh some IT infrastructure, choosing Cisco HyperFlex. That infrastructure gave Gaede the confidence he needed walking out of the room, that he could layer capabilities on top to fight back the COVID-19 wave. One such example is with telehealth.

"So for our journey with telehealth, we talked about it on a Wednesday, we looked at technology on a Thursday, met with our teams on Friday and then we were doing care on Monday," Gaede said. "Challenge created the necessity to find ways to do this and people were open to it."

Cisco wireless access and collaboration technologies allowed the remote testing centers to quickly get up and running. Innovation also was needed to help reduce the use of PPE, which was achieved with the use of a robot that provides a camera and a screen, where patients can converse with providers with reduced risk and full social distancing.

For Gaede, there are many lessons learned thus far that could help to inform health care IT in the future. For one, he noted that while it's good to create plans, there also needs to be a willingness to change and to do things differently. Another lesson learned might seem obvious in retrospect, but it is to be prepared.

"We need to be ready and we need to have all the infrastructure in place," Gaede said. "In addition to saving lives and innovating, our vision statement is to lead the organization in customer service and if there has ever been a time when we need to do that, it's right now."

From the shop floor, to working from home at Hoganas

As COVID-19 hit, Michael Rhoades, manager of information technology at North American Hoganas faced a number of different challenges. Hoganas is an industrial manufacturer of iron and metal powders, with global operations.

"I wouldn't say we were anti work from home but we were very much work from home averse," Rhoades said. "We're in a physical place, we have people on the floor, and the managers and shift supervisors want in-person communications all the time, so switching that mindset was the hardest thing for them."

But as far as technology goes, Rhoades said that thanks to their existing investment in Cisco HyperFlex, Hoganas didn't have to buy a single item as the pandemic hit. "Our corporate network instantly extended," Rhoades said. Even processing heavy applications, like Computer Aided Design (CAD) is now able to be done directly, as users connect remotely into the data center.

"I'm an aggressive leading-edge guy and with the specs I was putting in, I was already planning for about 30% year-over-year growth anyways," Rhoades said. "So basically I had capacity un-used ready to go. So, when it came time to say everyone get out, go home - my leadership team was pleased."

Rhoades emphasized that throughout the pandemic, he has been in contact with his local Cisco team to help make sure that his IT assets are capable of scaling to meet the new demands.

As far as lessons learned for other IT professionals, Rhoades emphasized that it is critical to never sit idly by with technology and let it get old or stale. Always look at new technology and how it's going to help benefit users.

"I think we're setup to support and change the way we're working," Rhoades said. "This is probably the world's greatest stress test."

Enabling business resilience

"Our customers have been thrown into an all-digital world, almost overnight," commented Kaustubh Das, Vice President and General Manager, Cloud & Compute at Cisco.

The challenges across Cisco customers have included ramping up and enabling a remote work force, including IT staff who are required to stay connected to support both users and operations. Ramping up utilization on data center and public cloud platforms without compromising the application performance, ensuring security and governance, and managing networks and access for users are some of the important issues that IT teams are wrestling with.

"We've got a really strong point of view on that. We’re focused not only on helping customers deploy new solutions to address these challenges but also on helping them get the most out of what they’ve already got and control costs across both on-prem and their public clouds," Das said. “Coming out of this challenging time, our customers are thinking differently about business resilience. We’re enabling them to reimagine this new world of digital experiences, benefit from insights and automation, proactively address issues and confidently scale to help navigate uncertainty in unpredictable times.”

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