For any organisation with multiple sites, “going digital” involves much more than simply flicking a switch and enabling cloud services. For healthcare, digital transformation also involves sensitivities around data privacy and security, and a need to ensure the resilience of the network so that the accurate and timely provision of healthcare is never compromised.
SA Health, which handles the Government of South Australia’s health portfolio and health agencies, turned to Vocus to establish the network foundations for its transformation strategy. In partnership with Vocus, SA Health has since been able to provide next-level services to communities and people across a geographically diverse state, while at the same time maintaining tight control over the escalating costs of services.
The engagement commenced around 2019, during a WAN refresh for SA Health. This led to the two organisations taking a broader look at network and connectivity into hospitals and other healthcare sites, which ultimately helped SA Health deliver the services it needed to get through the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vocus was engaged to provide SA Health with:
- 100mbps to 1Gbps symmetric connectivity to hospitals across the state. This involved Vocus deploying a mix of its own fibre connections and partnering with wholesale infrastructure providers, including nbn™ to deliver ‘Enterprise Ethernet’ to other locations;
- Regional connectivity across 140 sites in total so that remote locations could access the same infrastructure and IT services as the urban locations;
- The networking foundation that made it cost-efficient to provide regional locations with electronic forms, telehealth, and online information libraries and resources that would otherwise have been difficult to gain access to; and
- Critical infrastructure regulation compliance, a series of government requirements around security to protect the data security of SA Health and its records.
This has had wide-ranging benefits across the entire hospital network. According to Jodie Caston, Vocus National Account Director, it has been particularly beneficial in ensuring that regional South Australia has access to a broader range of health services.
Because South Australia is one of the least-dense states in Australia, the provision of digital services has been critical to the organisation’s ability to improve healthcare while retaining control over costs.
“Healthcare, and how it’s delivered today, is very expensive to do,” Ken Kirkland, SA Health Director of Technology and Infrastructure, Digital Health, said. “Health consumes a large percentage of the [South Australian] budget. The ability to continue to provide the high level of care that we already have means finding ways to help a system that is already under financial stress.
“When you’re dealing with the tyranny of distance and remote locations, and managing incumbent infrastructure, upgrades such as this can become complicated,” Kirkland added.
Overcoming the challenges in rolling out digital healthcare
Vocus and SA Health needed to engage closely with councils and building owners, each with their own technology partners and providers, as part of the rollout. “It was important for Vocus to develop an underlying platform that not only delivered services to current requirements, but one with flexibility,” Caston said.
“Investment made into backhaul infrastructure is more important now than ever before. With emerging technologies such as satellite and 5G, there is a necessity to support scale and elasticity, by building in resiliency and redundancy into connectivity. This investment between carriers and governments results in; jobs, regional connectivity improvements via accessibility for education and healthcare, closing the digital divide and allowing for future growth, rather than expensive temporary fixes.”
This commitment to servicing the needs of SA Health and establishing a networking environment that would last them into the future was a major benefit to working with Vocus, Kirkland said.
‘’Vocus is personable, committed and they’re looking to genuinely help us with our outcomes—and it just feels like an extended part of SA Health’s ICT digital team,” he said.
Vocus’ commitment to its customers has been especially evident in the past year. The pandemic was a unique challenge that required close collaboration between SA Health and Vocus. There was a pressing need to set up infrastructure and digital solutions as quickly as possible in challenging places to support COVID testing clinics, and re-establish decommissioned hospitals to manage overflow, and time frames were often moved forward with short notice for such substantial projects.
“Sometimes it was a case of, ‘hey, we need a COVID-testing centre set up on Monday’, and we would be putting that call in on Friday night,” Kirkland said. “Things that would normally take weeks or months of procurement and planning were rolled out as rapidly as we needed them.”
While the initial project with Vocus is complete, this is just the start of SA Health’s ongoing journey into transformation and network modernisation. The organisation wants to eliminate data centres from its environment to better leverage the cloud and SaaS services. This will be key to taking the next step towards IoT and edge applications, like wearable devices and other technologies, that will allow it to further drive superior patient outcomes.
The organisation’s ability to achieve this has been significantly enhanced by its new scalable, resilient network environment. SA Health can continue innovating, knowing that the infrastructure and support is there to deliver.
“The team at SA Health are a professional and dedicated group that are really trying to drive better outcomes, and they care genuinely about the results and what they can deliver on,” Caston said. “They really drive hard to get things done, and they end up moving quickly because they’re coming from a place with everyone’s best intentions at heart.”
For more information on the services that Vocus provides Australian government organisations across the country, click here.