At Atlantic Health System, one of the largest healthcare providers in New Jersey, a singular focus on patient care drives every decision, from operating rooms to the board room, high-tech hospitals to rural outpatient clinics. In six major hospitals and over 400 additional care locations, Atlantic Health’s 19,000+ employees serve a patient population of more than six million.
Atlantic Health’s infrastructure leaders focus on implementing innovative technology to expand access to healthcare resources, maintain compliance, and promote better care.
Atlantic Health has rapidly expanded its outpatient care network in recent years, motivating Chief Technology Officer Meraz Nasir to look for a better solution for providing secure connectivity at clinics, remote centers, and other locations beyond the hospitals. All locations across the system needed the same access to critical technology and applications to serve patients wherever they were seeking care.
Atlantic Health turned to Palo Alto Networks to connect all its locations for secure, reliable, high-performance SD-WAN. Since then, Nasir and his team have continued to trust Palo Alto Networks to meet new security challenges, helping to ensure patients receive the highest quality care and that their data remains secure at rest, in motion, and anywhere on the network.
Atlantic Health’s outpatient care network has quickly expanded through acquisitions and partnerships with private physicians. Each outpatient clinic, physician’s office, and other ambulatory care center requires a secure connection to the critical applications and data stored in two data centers and the cloud.
In the past, Nasir and his team used dedicated links with a VPN solution for remote access. As the system expanded, however, these solutions proved difficult to manage and delivered a poor user experience, leading to a high volume of service desk requests. Expansion through mergers and acquisitions produced a heterogenous network, with multiple point products and management consoles, creating operational complexity.
Ensuring reliable connectivity with sufficient bandwidth to meet providers’ needs was critical. Physicians across Atlantic Health need access to healthcare applications housed in the data center and, increasingly, in the cloud. Many of these applications are essential to quality care, such as Epic, used for electronic medical records (EMRs). Providers also need to transmit time-sensitive data, such as imaging scans, which require gigabit-level bandwidth.
As Atlantic Health approached the project, it was important to Nasir to achieve the necessary connectivity while significantly reducing infrastructure costs. “It is important for us to provide world-class technology while concurrently prioritizing the cost of care,” he explains. “We are firmly dedicated to identifying and implementing economical solutions in order to enhance the affordability and accessibility of care.”
The cost of dedicated links was unsustainable, so the team focused on using broadband with a reliable, secure SD-WAN solution.
To meet Atlantic Health’s current needs and prepare for future expansion, the infrastructure team tested multiple SD-WAN solutions against five key performance requirements:
During a 90-day proof of concept, Atlantic Health determined that Palo Alto Networks Prisma SD-WAN outperformed other solutions in each of the key performance areas.
Availability: Prisma SD-WAN increased availability by using multiple WAN carriers, replacing dedicated links, and providing the bandwidth the system needed to manage high-intensity traffic and ensure access to care-critical applications.
Performance: Atlantic Health valued the improved overall performance demonstrated during testing, achieved by prioritizing critical applications with Quality of Service (QoS) traffic control and intelligently steering traffic by switching traffic flows using app-defined fabric when performance degrades.
Security: With enhanced security capabilities, Atlantic Health can ensure that all patient-protected health information (PHI) and other institutional data remain safe and compliant.
Simplicity: Simplified setup that can be performed remotely enables the infrastructure team to onboard any new location quickly and easily.
Cost: Atlantic Health valued the ability to leverage high-bandwidth, low-cost broadband to replace more expensive technologies and simplify management, requiring less dedicated staff time.
“For us, Prisma SD-WAN was the clear winner,” Nasir says. “It gave us everything we were looking for, and the performance improvement means large files, such as radiology scans, can be transmitted very quickly. That directly impacts patient care.”
By implementing Prisma SD-WAN, Atlantic Health connected its hospitals, outpatient clinics, partner physicians, data centers, and cloud services with a reliable, high-performance solution that supports its core mission. Physicians across the system know they’ll have the patient data they need anytime, anywhere. They can update EMRs in real time, and all PHI is secure across the system.
Improved performance has enabled the team to simplify the system’s architecture and backhaul less traffic to the data center. They also were able to reduce outages due to network hardware issues by up to 33% with Prisma SD-WAN.
Because Prisma SD-WAN is simple to set up and manage, it’s easier for the Atlantic Health team to keep up with growth. Using widely available broadband rather than waiting 90 days for a dedicated link, new locations can be added to the network within minutes.
Atlantic Health no longer needs specialists to install complex infrastructure at each new location. New clinics can be added quickly by in-house team members with minimal network architecture knowledge.
Critically, Prisma SD-WAN has made Atlantic Health more agile in responding to public health emergencies. When the solution was adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlantic Health could quickly connect remote and pop-up vaccination clinics, supporting the essential work of delivering vaccines to those who needed them. This capability ensures that Atlantic Health can respond quickly in the event of another widespread emergency.
With over 200 sites now connected with Prisma SD-WAN, controlling costs while delivering a significantly improved user experience is a win-win for Nasir and his team. “Service desk requests have decreased substantially since we started using Prisma SD-WAN,” he notes. “That means practitioners spend their time providing care rather than dealing with technology challenges.”
Since deploying Prisma SD-WAN, Atlantic Health has turned to Palo Alto Networks to meet more of its most pressing security challenges. Atlantic Health plans to deploy additional virtual solutions, such as Prisma Access, for security, compliance, and to protect its quickly expanding IoT environment. It’s also increasing security automation to ensure seamless, uninterrupted cybersecurity across its care network.
For Nasir, cybersecurity is a cornerstone of the ongoing project to use technology to make a difference in patient care. As a trusted partner, Palo Alto Networks will continue to play a critical role in keeping Atlantic Health secure as its 19,000 doctors, nurses, and team members remain dedicated to keeping patients healthy.
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