Securing SD-WAN in Distributed Healthcare Environments

Organizations are becoming increasingly reliant on digital capabilities across industries, and this is no different in the healthcare space. New technology has enabled patients to take a more hands-on role in their care, simplified patient/physician communication, and improved the ability of patients to get care in rural locations. For this adoption of technology to be effective, however, healthcare providers must ensure they have the necessary WAN (wide area network) infrastructure to accommodate more requests and greater bandwidth needs. 

Digitalization in Healthcare

The healthcare space has been quick to adopt connected IoMT devices, mobile applications, and bring your own device (BYOD) policies as a means to improve patient care and experience. For example, there are 3.7 million IoMT devices in use today, and 66.9 percent of health executives report using SaaS cloud applications.

Each of these technologies relies on network access to dynamically communicate data between patients and doctors in real-time. In the healthcare space, the speed and accuracy with which this data is transmitted are especially important, as it can be lifesaving. Cloud-based applications store data offsite, meaning hospitals need their networks to be operating with extremely low latency to access this information without unnecessary delays. Additionally, healthcare networks must have the bandwidth capabilities to accommodate the greater number of endpoints requesting access to the network without sacrificing performance.

Finally, all of these additional connections to the network represent an increased risk, as cybercriminals leverage this expanded attack surface to launch frequent sophisticated attacks, such as ransomware and DDoS. This means that healthcare organizations need to increase their level of network controls to ensure patient privacy and HIPAA compliance.

The Effect on WAN

The digitalization of the network and resources has had a largely negative effect on the performance of traditional WANs. The traditional static WAN infrastructure is hard-pressed to keep pace with the shifting workloads and resources brought on by the cloud and virtualization. This has led to erratic application performance and decreased efficiency, as all requests must still be cycled through the central enterprise datacenter. Additionally, WANs can be difficult to secure. And as more devices and applications are brought into the mix, IT teams using more point solutions make securing and managing user-owned devices more difficult.

Overall, traditional WANs are not equipped to handle distributed environments due to lack of flexibility, bandwidth limitations, and expensive infrastructure and MPLS.

The Shift to SD-WAN

To more effectively manage distributed environments without sacrificing performance, organizations are once again looking to virtualization, this time through the implementation of SD-WAN, or software-defined wide area networks. The ability to control the broader enterprise network through the cloud that SD-WAN provides solves many of the issues healthcare organizations face when trying to add virtualization to existing WANs.

SD-WANs are able to improve efficiency and productivity in the following five key areas, making them ideal for digital healthcare:

  • Automatic response to shifting application policies while distributing traffic across multiple locations
  • On-demand connectivity
  • Flexible network scaling as traffic grows, maintaining peak performance at all hours
  • Adding and reducing bandwidth as needed
  • Simplified infrastructure for improved manageability.  

Additionally, SD-WANs are more cost efficient than traditional WANs, as they do not rely on MPLS.

Securing SD-WAN in Healthcare

As healthcare providers make the transition from WAN to SD-WAN, security infrastructure is a critical consideration, especially as increased digitalization widens the attack surface. Growing numbers of connected devices and application use mean an increased percentage of valuable healthcare data is susceptible to cybercriminals.

To mitigate these risks, organizations often deploy separate SD-WAN and security controls, such as a next-generation firewall. However, this leaves room for security gaps as well as performance bottlenecks. This is because traditional perimeter defenses are less effective in distributed environments, as the perimeter becomes more transparent and porous. Effective security controls have to be able to adapt with a flexible SD-WAN infrastructure, as well as to the numerous devices accessing it.   

To secure the transition to SD-WAN and digital healthcare, Fortinet has developed an SD-WAN enabled next-generation firewall that addresses these security challenges without hindering performance. For example, FortiGate Firewalls offer scalability to support thousands of devices across distributed locations through the industry’s highest throughput, as well as the ability to update application IP addresses and ports for efficient routing.

In addition to high performance, secured SD-WANs from Fortinet offer high-speed inspection of SSL encrypted data, as well as visibility into applications, users, and threats. Furthermore, Fortinet provides simple, centralized management, through FortiManager, enabling single pane of glass visibility across distributed environments to align security efforts even across multi-cloud environments.

Final Thoughts

New technology in the healthcare space has improved patient care and experience around the world. To maintain this level of innovation, healthcare organizations need to be able to offer a level of performance that can keep pace with demand, while ensuring data protection and HIPAA compliance. Secured SD-WAN makes this possible.   


Read more about Fortinet solutions for healthcare. And join us at this year’s HIMSS conference where we’re presenting and on exhibition, Booth #3210.