Supporting Swedish Citizens with the Best Healthcare IT
We’ve come to understand and appreciate how critical frontline healthcare workers are to our societies. In some ways, our health is all we have; healthcare workers help us maintain and protect it. But IT is critical too—it underlies every element of a modern healthcare system, so it needs to be as seamless as possible while ensuring security and efficiency.
As IT Operations Manager at Region Värmland, I ensure IT operations run smoothly for the frontline healthcare workers who serve the citizens of our county. Located in the midwestern part of Sweden and bordering Norway, Värmland is one of 21 counties that serve as regional government and provider of public services. With around 300,000 citizens, ours is a relatively small county in terms of population. It is also very beautiful, with many forests, lakes, and wildlife, making it a popular tourist destination in summer.
Our organization is responsible for public healthcare, public transport, regional and cultural development, as well as governance in the form of our county council. With that said, our primary focus is on healthcare: Around 90% of the county’s 9,000 employees are doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers who work in one of our three hospitals or approximately 150 clinics. The IT department, where I’ve worked for five years, is a central institution that serves them—and the rest of our operations—with IT solutions.
The Unique IT Challenges of a Small Municipality
While nearly everyone has IT challenges in healthcare, some of ours relate to being a smaller municipality.
On the healthcare side, it is hard to attract healthcare professionals because many of them want to live and work in and around the capital, Stockholm. This isn’t a new situation, but the pandemic exacerbated the problem. The industry is under a lot of pressure, and many facilities are short-staffed, even in more populated areas. That puts us at a more considerable disadvantage. We’re competing with more prominent hospitals with fewer doctors and nurses to go around.
We’re also seeing a significant demographic shift: Like in many countries, Sweden’s population is aging. As we age, we require more care, so this demographic shift puts even greater demand on the healthcare system.
And then there’s IT. Our department is always trying to strike the right balance between smooth operations and high availability. Putting out fires is part of the job, but our top priority is always to be a willing and able partner for our healthcare services. We want to provide the digital tools they need to deliver the best services to residents, and if there’s a way technology can help them streamline their workflows and improve processes, then we want to make it happen.
However, time and resources are always limited. In addition to supporting our healthcare needs, our IT team of 120 people must also contend with securing systems in response to increased security threats.
Thinking About Data Integration, Privacy, and Security
There are a lot of conversations happening now about ways IT can work to solve many of these big-picture healthcare issues. For example, a shortage of personnel may mean we need to invest more in wearable technology and other devices in patient homes, enabling us to care for more outpatients while offering the same standard of care. We could also look to incorporate more AI solutions to enable healthcare organizations and professionals to be more predictive and proactive. But these and other such solutions would require better data sharing capabilities, which introduces privacy concerns and security risks.
The more digitized we become, the more vulnerable we will be if we ever encounter a failure. In Sweden, we work hard to strengthen our defenses and determine how organizations will continue to work if there’s a war, an electrical grid outage, or another catastrophe. We have worked to modernize our IT infrastructure, but if those platforms stop working, vital activities such as electronic payments and accessing medical records will come to a halt.
So you see, it’s not just healthcare that we have to consider. And in surveying the landscape and weighing these risks, Region Värmland depends on Cisco as a partner to help us mitigate our risks while addressing our challenges.
Improvements in Efficiency and Agility
Our existing network infrastructure, including routing, switching, and security solutions, is based on Cisco technology. Compared to when I joined five years ago, our network quality has vastly improved. We have around 2,500 network devices in our environment, and that number continually grows.
Since adopting Cisco DNA Center, we have been able to enhance the security of our network and automate more tasks, in particular device configuration. This increased automation has freed up our engineers’ time because they’re no longer required to perform tasks manually, and it removes the potential for human error.
We can log into Cisco DNA Center daily and see the status of the network and individual devices, and Cisco DNA Center Assurance tools like the Device 360 for Switch and Router offer detailed data and views that aid our help desk in pinpointing device, access point, and switch issues. This visibility helps us do more with less. Our team can troubleshoot incidents faster than they ever could before. This quickness improves the experience for our end users who contact our first line help desk when they run into an issue. By moving to Cisco DNA Center, we are more efficient, maintain higher availability in our support services, and provide faster end-user support.
Engineers don’t have to put out fires nearly as often, and they use the time saved to engage in more development. These intangible results are just as important as any numbers on a report. We’re all human and deserve a healthy work environment. The engineers in my unit are committed professionals who perform high-level work—we must give them the tools they need and alleviate stress in their day-to-day work.
Taking this back to healthcare, the improved quality of the network extends to our colleagues in our health facilities. Staff shortages mean they have to do more with less. There’s no time to spend waiting on applications to load or dealing with system outages. When we improve the technology and the network they rely on, it is easier for them to provide vital care to our residents. And good technology is a big draw for any medical professional, with the potential to boost recruitment.
Moving at the Speed Our Region Demands
The pace of secure digitalization can be dizzying, and it’s worth it to occasionally stop and ask, “What’s Plan B here?” We want to move at the speed our healthcare partners need while simultaneously considering how these changes will benefit everyone in Värmland.
The future may be uncertain, but working with a partner like Cisco gives us the peace of mind that our network is as strong as it can be to face the future of healthcare.