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4 Steps to Apply and Use the Rural Health Care Program

You’re an IT leader for a rural healthcare organization. You’re doing your job keeping the facility in operations, but then the pandemic happened. Suddenly, keeping the lights, printers, security cameras, Wi-Fi, medical equipment and other hardware running on the network isn’t enough.

Now the focus is on using technology to improve the customer and staff experience. This new demand isn’t just for show. It’s what will save your rural healthcare business and the community it serves. 

The pandemic puts unprecedented pressure on people to social distance. Even patients in the most critical condition may only have one visitor, while other friends and family must be seen and heard through video and calls or not at all.

There’s a movement for paperless check-in using secure mobile applications. For facilities with a campus environment, these same applications provide way-finding services and show patients which building and room to enter for their appointment.

Patients with less critical needs are encouraged to leverage telehealth services.

And it’s not new for people receiving outpatient treatment like dialysis or chemotherapy to want to surf social media, stream movies, and FaceTime loved ones while they wait.

These network-enabled capabilities aren’t just to better accommodate customers. They also empower staff to be more efficient.

Take for example location services and asset tracking that help staff locate medical equipment. Ventilators, IV pumps, wheelchairs and other assets often accumulate on certain floors or closets. Instead of staff taking time away from patients or patient-related responsibilities to search the premises, they can use an iPad or tablet that shows where these assets are located on different floors.

All of these services put more demand on the network you manage.

It’s for these reasons that small, rural healthcare are competing for business and talent with their larger, more technologically advanced urban counterparts. People are willing to drive out of their communities to facilities that provide these network-enabled capabilities. These health care services are even a determining factor for people looking for communities to start a family or retire.

The good news for you is that there is significant funding available from the government to update your network to provide these technology-driven experiences. The funding even includes the services to help you design, implement, deploy, and manage it.

Here are four steps to consider.

Qualify for Funding

The Rural Health Care Program, as its name suggests, is specifically for rural healthcare to build the telecommunications and broadband services necessary for health care.

Eligible facilities range from rural teaching hospitals and medical schools to mental health centers. Even consortiums of health care providers may be eligible, as long as they are non-profit or public.

Rural Health Care Program consisting of two programs including the Healthcare Connect Fund Program and the Telecommunications Program.

There are nuances to notice as you prepare to apply. The Healthcare Connect Fund Program focuses on supporting broadband and offers a 65 percent flat discount on a variety of communications services. The Telecommunications Program subsidizes the difference between urban and rural rates.

Apply for Funding

Part of the application process requires you to submit documentation about the services you intend to enable for both providers and patients, how you’re planning to manage those network services and meet industry requirements.

For example, offering telehealth may require extending corporate network services into a physician’s house. This connection with the physician’s home must meet the same quality assurance, security and HIPPA requirements as your on-premise facility.  

There are multiple forms to fill out between now and June 1, 2021. This includes a quote for the needed funding. This means you will have prepared an IT design, implementation, deployment, and management plan. Do not wait for this deadline to prepare the forms, estimated budget, and documentation. Give yourself at least 60 days.

Select the Right Technology

The technology you choose to deploy is going to have a big impact on the services you can offer, how you manage and secure them.

We are seeing more healthcare, especially rural organizations, benefit from the Juniper Networks’ solutions, so make sure this is in your consideration stack.

This is because Juniper focuses on the user experience, and provides a single pane of glass to manage everything from the wireless access point (APs) to the switch to the secure connectivity between sites. It’s called wide area network (WAN) assurance. It’s tied to wired and wireless assurance. You’re able to manage everything in your WAN from switch ports all the way through the wireless and through the edge network under one console. This means you focus on the service level expectations on the network versus the bits and bytes on the network itself.

For example, let’s say a patient comes on-premise and has trouble connecting to the guest Wi-Fi. They want to use the guest Wi-Fi for paperless check-in. Now from your console you can see that the service level expectations for items such as Time to Connect, Successful Connects, Roaming, Throughput, Coverage, and more. All these items show 99% success except for Coverage, which shows 33% success. Click on Coverage and you will receive a breakdown of the problem. What once took you hours if not days to identify the root cause of a problem now takes minutes. You can fix the problem that was potentially causing several patients and staff to have a poor Wi-Fi experience. The same scenario applies to the edge of your network. For example, if you send an AP to physicians’ homes so they can provide telehealth services remote as well as on-prem, you can manage these homes as part of your WAN.

This is possible because Juniper has integrated their products into an AI engine. Every device’s state of connection is captured, correlated, analyzed, and shown to you as natural language so you can better understand what is happening on the network. Juniper recently integrated security into this solution, which means configuring, managing, and securing the network has the same simple user experience as described.

This is why organizations that deploy Juniper experience a significant reduction of IT help desk tickets.

Another benefit we’re seeing with Juniper Networks is how the APs have converged virtual BLE technology. This means you don’t need the physical beacons to enable way-finding services. You can configure, deploy, and manage the them from your single management console.

Select the Right IT Solution Partner

Choosing the right IT solution partner is crucial to your success in this application and digital transformation process.

The right partner will help in every step of this journey from understanding what forms need turned in to how to design an IT plan that best suits your business climate. Perhaps more important than getting approved for the Rural Health Care Program funding is ensuring you have the skillset to deploy and manage it.

There’s no room for unexpected network downtime within a healthcare environment.  Everything needs to be staged, configured, tested and validated in an environment that shows everything works before it’s part of your production network. Then, we can roll out everything in your environment and make that downtime as little as possible.

GDT, for example, works with many critical infrastructure clients. We have the tools, testing environments, manufacturer partnerships, contract vehicles, and expertise to ensure this process is seamless, efficient, and reliable.

Once it’s deployed, you can lean on our managed services to operate this updated network until your team is trained. Or, you may decide that operations aren’t your business model and prefer to continue to leverage managed services. As mentioned, this can be funded by the Rural Health Care Program.

Next Steps

Reach out to your GDT Account Manager or Juniper.Sales@GDT.com for more information.

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