By Elizabeth O’Dowd

Properly planning upgrades to legacy health IT infrastructure solutions prevents compatibility issues and assures the IT budget is being used effectively.

A successful health IT infrastructure comprises many layers. From storage to wireless networks, these solutions need to work together to ensure electronic health data is secure and accessible. IT infrastructure is made up of the solutions used to protect and access the information needed for an organization to run.

Healthcare organizations typically run on an IT infrastructure that contains a wireless network, a storage server, and an operating system at a minimum. Infrastructure also contains the programs and apps used to collect electronic data and any cloud or virtualization solutions an organization chooses to deploy.

Most healthcare organizations looking to upgrade have legacy systems supporting their infrastructure that are functioning but are likely unable to handle a growing digital environment. Replacing an older environment piece by piece is much more difficult than starting from scratch.

Assessing and replacing large parts of the infrastructure takes thorough and precise planning by professionals and vendor consultants. Organizations need to have an IT professional on their staff to make decisions, head all infrastructure projects, and communicate budget requirements with financial officers.

Isolating pieces of the IT infrastructure to upgrade can present compatibility issues which take time to solve. If a wireless network is too dated to handle a new cloud deployment, the wireless network has to be upgraded before any other new technology is considered.

Upgrading an entire infrastructure is a long process due to budget the restraints healthcare institutions often face. Each aspect of an enterprise level IT infrastructure deployment is costly not only because of the technology but also the staff required to maintain and run it.

While some of these infrastructure deployments will limit the number of staff needed by design, specialists may be needed to properly manage and maintain solutions. Current IT staff will also need to be trained in the new technology. Additional facility and security staff may also be required for larger institutions.

According to IT planning research by Doug Preis, these first steps are called project identification and selection. Projects are identified and ranked according to how much an organization relies on that part of the infrastructure.

IT decision makers identify which projects are going to be pursued, block out a general timeline and budget for the project, and determine what technology will need to be used to implement the project.

Upgrading a health IT infrastructure goes beyond determining which solution will work best for each part of the infrastructure. A significant ROI is also an important factor, especially for healthcare institutions.

Healthcare practices conduct business differently than other industries when it comes to turning a profit. People need to see healthcare professionals regardless of the organization having the latest technology.

Organizations that deploy patient-facing apps could attract patients from other healthcare organizations nearby, but the number of patients changing providers most likely won’t be significant enough to be a factor in adopting application infrastructure.

Other industries are likely to see a direct relation of rising profit over time to adoption of new technology, where healthcare may not. Lack of ROI makes adopting new, high-tech solutions hard to justify if they are not critical to operations.

IT decision-makers need to consider the value of increased productivity against what the budget will allow for new technology.

Upgrading legacy health IT infrastructure is becoming more important as patient expectations change. Better use of healthcare technology begins with the foundation it operates on. IT infrastructure supports inward and outward facing applications, biomedical devices, and file storage.

An organization’s health IT infrastructure needs to be able to embrace new technologies that patients and healthcare professionals are coming to expect.