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Telecom Cure - Apollo Hospitals improves its technology health

June 15, 2010
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The Apollo Hospitals Group and the Delhi government jointly set up Indraprastha Apollo Hospital (IAH). The 695-bed hospital started functioning in 1996 and provides a range of diagnostic, medical and surgical facilities.

With the aim of keeping pace with the latest technology developments, IAH decided to upgrade its limited communications infrastructure to one that facilitates seamless data flow, thereby enhancing productivity and improving its network connectivity.

tele.net takes a look at the development of the health-care major's IT and telecom infrastructure...

Legacy system
In its early days, the hospital made use of a simple IT and telecom infrastructure. All departments were connected via a local area network (LAN) and all computers were connected to a server that had limited functionality. Also, every branch of IAH had its own communications set-up, which functioned independently, without any link to the other branches.

In addition, it used plain old telephone systems and email for external communication. Another important component was the hospital information system, sourced from Wipro. "This may well be called the `backbone' of the hospital, as it helped automate the clinical, administrative and supply chain functions, and improved our operational effectiveness by reducing costs and medical errors," says R. Srinivasan, department head, information technology, IAH.

However, as IT and telecom brought about several changes in the health-care sector and the business grew, IAH realised that it needed to adopt IT infrastructure that facilitated efficient and contemporary work practices and optimised workflow.

The shift
The hospital's agenda was simple: to implement a robust and integrated communications infrastructure that would enable information flow on a real-time basis. Srinivasan elaborates, "The past decade has witnessed tremendous change in health-care, owing to rapid advancements in technology. Today, every company has implemented an enterprise-wide communication infrastructure; nothing works in isolation any more."

To begin with, the hospital implemented Visual Studio 6, a suite of tools for developing multiple software for the Windows platform, network resources for the internet, as well as combinations of the two.

Next, it migrated from a client-based system to a server-based system, which helped the user access and open any module or database on any system in a flexible fashion.

In terms of wide area network (WAN) technologies, the hospital opted for several components. These include DLC (local loop), which had a bandwidth ranging from 512 kbps to 2 Mbps, IPLCs, MPLS, the internet, ISDN and VSAT, which was used in telemedicine-related services.

ISDN helped the hospital remain constantly in touch with its various branch and production units. It could now enjoy higher download speeds and deploy new applications such as video or audio streaming without interruption. The technology also helped transmit voice, data and video on a single line, with several people online simultaneously, and no loss in speed or data transmission.

Moreover, leased lines gave the company a large variety of bandwidths to choose from, allowing it to customise its broadband package. The operator of choice for this service was Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited.

Similarly, the hospital's telemedicine service covers the entire country. Last year, it was extended beyond the country's borders, with the launch of Om Hospital in Kathmandu. The Telemedicine Consulting Center at Om Hospital is linked to the Telemedicine Specialty Centre at the centre in New Delhi. Doctors at Apollo Hospitals can view live medical images of the patient through the advanced telemedicine software.

For last mile access, the hospital opted for two mediums: fibre connectivity and wireless. Wi-Fi was the wireless technology of choice and currently, it has several "hotspots" in certain areas of the hospital.

Several enterprise applications such as video conferencing, audio conferencing and email have also been implemented by IAH.
To stay in touch on the go, IAH opted for mobile email on the BlackBerry platform, conferencing facilities on the handheld and a corporate intranet system. Apart from the obvious advantage of anytime, anywhere mobility, corporate intranet provided the company with a cheap, flexible and easy-to-use medium, giving it the freedom to test new ideas and keep company personnel in the loop regarding new developments.

Network security was top priority. In light of this, the institution put in place a multi-tiered infrastructure that included security audits, firewalls, proxy servers, penetration testing and operating system security patches.

Challenges and benefits
The hospital did not encounter any major challenges while implementing the IT and telecom upgrades. One of the reasons for the smooth transition was that the company's employees were willing to adopt the new technologies in order to streamline their processes.

The technology upgrades resulted in several benefits for the company. These include reduced overheads, reliable connectivity and a single, standardised platform for all processes.

In fact, the hospital goes in for an infrastructure upgrade every five years. It spends about Rs 30 million annually on its communications infrastructure.



 
 
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