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Creating Better Vision

Creating Better Vision

As India's Sankara Nethralaya hospital took on more applications to meet patient needs, its network went on a blink, leaving the hospital blind for hours. When the problem moved from being an irritant to life-threatening, it knew only a network management system could save it.

It was 1978 when the country saw the birth of what was to become one of India's best-known medical institutions. It was the year when an eye hospital took upon itself to deliver free treatment to its patients.

Sankara Nethralaya is all that and more. The charitable hospital that was conceived by Sankaracharya of Kanchi, has many awards and accolades against its name -- including the best managed charitable hospital in India.

Today, in its 30th year, equipped with the latest technology, this super specialty hospital treats more than half a million patients annually. But long before it started to see this many patients, the hospital realized that it was imperative to have an IT-enabled infrastructure. And, today, it uses technology extensively for all its operations.

But, beneath this success story and the awards lay a sorry picture of a tired network infrastructure.

In November 2007, the hospital installed a comprehensive EMR system (an electronic medical records system maintains patient records in a digital format). "The EMR is life critical," says M.K. Manavalan, Head-IT, Sankara Nethralaya. "If a doctor in an operation theatre needs to verify something, he or she turns to the tablet PC or laptop" that runs on the EMR system.

The EMR system also offered analytical data. Critical surgeries have separate modules, which, over a period of time, has been able to prescribe evidence-based medication. That's not all, even the drug inventory used the EMR system. "The store prescribes and disburses medicines according to expiry dates, so even inventory management is on the network," he says.

The EMR like most other apps in the hospital runs off a network. As the hospital banked more and more on its network, it began to show signs of strain and over time, network performance became a life-threatening issue. To make matters worse, the network did not have a proper monitoring system. Soon, the hospital began to be plagued by long hours of downtime, often because of network problems. This resulted in functional delays of the system, which had a direct impact on patient services.

"The last time it happened, we had a downtime of seven to eight hours, when there was no billing either. There was a lot of traffic that got stuck, it was a total collapse," remembers Manavalan.

Ironically, locating some of the problems took about several hours while fixing them took a few minutes. "Identifying the trouble used to take so long because we had a very large network of at least 40 to 50 components," points out Manavalan.

But when you run a hospital, a few minutes of downtime can be fatal. Sankara Nethralaya needed 100 percent uptime service from its IT infrastructure and every day it waited for that, it put the lives of its patients in danger.

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