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Mission accomplished: Asklepios protects its patients with VMware

Mission accomplished: Asklepios protects its patients with VMware

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Armed with an ultramodern IT infrastructure built on the firm digital foundation of VMware, one of Germany’s leading hospital operators is ideally placed to meet the needs of today and tomorrow whilst bolstering its reputation as a trusted, security-conscious healthcare group. Here, Daniel Maier-Johnson, CISO at Asklepios, tells us how cybersecurity solutions empower him and his IT team not only to ward off cyberattacks, but also to analyse activities on the devices, adjust preventive measures in response to new threats and automate previously manual workflows throughout the entire security infrastructure.

The Asklepios Group is one of Germany’s largest private hospitals. ‘The highest standards of medical treatment and a commitment to continuous improvement above and beyond what is required by law’ have established the Hamburg-based hospital group as a benchmark in the German healthcare sector. Asklepios has advanced to the forefront of digitalisation, tearing down system silos, streamlining data sharing and developing a robust security architecture for its countless devices. Today, VMware Horizon and Workspace ONE are the beating heart of the healthcare provider’s IT landscape. VMware Carbon Black Cloud Endpoint Advanced, a cloud-based security solution, combines with VMware Carbon Black App Control for critical infrastructure protection to maximise security across the group’s virtualised data centre. Thus, 2.6 million patients served every year at Asklepios hospitals benefit from excellent standards of treatment and medical research, and also from personalised processes and faster diagnoses.

Laying the technological foundation for innovation

People are and always have been at the centre of everything Asklepios does. Even when it started as a small, family-run company back in 1985, Dr Bernard gr. Broermann had a crystal-clear focus on one thing: patients’ well-being. Nearly 35 years on, the Asklepios Group has an impressive 67,000 people on its payroll at 170 medical facilities in 14 German states. It serves the needs of 2.6 million patients a year. With high investments in cutting-edge medicine and digitalisation as well as the acquisition of MediClin AG and RHÖN-KLINIKUM AG, Asklepios is playing a key role in driving innovation in the healthcare sector. Since Medilys Laborgesellschaft GmbH acquired a majority stake in the company, Asklepios has also had one of Europe’s largest medical laboratories at its disposal. The hospital’s ambition is to lead the way in the digitalisation of healthcare in Germany, to further improve the quality of patient care and to shape the medicine of tomorrow.

Digitalisation in the service of humanity

Personalised and patient-centric processes, fast diagnosis, efficient treatment, optimal outcomes and a positive patient experience: The Hippocratic Oath has long ceased to be the only factor in making patients well again. Digital Transformation is now ensuring that many mutually interdependent hospital routines run more efficiently, reliably and closer to the patient. Insular systems that have grown over time are isolated, and complex processes are a common reason why modern digital technology is badly needed in this industry. But there is also a need for strict security. Today – and above all tomorrow – the fast, reliable and seamless sharing of information and the straightforward deployment of systems and devices will be decisive for Asklepios’ medical processes. At the same time, the technological foundation must be laid for continuous standardisation, interoperability, security and innovation.

“We obviously have a very strong focus on cybersecurity,” said Daniel Maier-Johnson, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Asklepios.

In the area of privacy and data protection, the healthcare sector cannot afford half-measures. These sort of attacks are a threat to patients’ identity and they can impede hospital operations and place the health and well-being of patients at risk. The hospital operator therefore took swift action when a risk assessment performed by Maier-Johnson revealed moderate potential for improvement. To ensure patients and their data will not be exposed to threats from cyberattacks, top priority was given to modernising security processes. The new concept had to measure up to the requirements of Germany’s critical infrastructure laws, but they also had to function with as few staff as possible. Beyond warding off threats, the new solution had to be intelligent enough to learn constantly.

‘VMware fits in with our ecosystem’

The Asklepios group set out to find a flexible, agile security platform into which new systems and endpoints could be integrated quickly and easily. “We launched an evaluation process, but the only really viable option for our enterprise requirements and our many thousand endpoints was VMware,” said Maier-Johnson. “That is especially true when you need to combine extensive standardisation and automation with maximised availability.”

It helped that the hospital group had already been working with proven virtualisation solutions for 16,000 workspaces based on VMware Horizon and Workspace ONE. VMware vSphere was in place as part of a long-standing partnership with the digital solution provider.

The cloud-based security solution, Carbon Black Cloud Endpoint Advanced, and Carbon Black App Control now maximise security across the hospital operator’s virtualised data centre. Carbon Black Cloud Endpoint Advanced is a next-generation antivirus solution that also provides endpoint recognition and response capabilities based on behavioural patterns. It includes Carbon Black Cloud Audit & Remediation, a real-time audit and correction solution that gives Asklepios’ security teams fast, easy access to unified data and enables them to adjust the system status of endpoints and containers.

Improvements for staff and patients alike

Thanks to VMware Horizon and VMware Workspace ONE, Asklepios’ staff can work from anywhere with access to a secure, high-availability platform. Nursing staff can, for example, use mobile devices to tap into everything they need to know about patients anywhere in the building.

“We see VMware as an investment in improving the way our people work, from senior doctors to nurses,” said Henning Schneider. “We are harnessing the opportunities afforded by digitalisation to continually optimise the quality of healthcare, but also to ease the workload on our colleagues. By 2024, our plan is to be a fully digital healthcare group.”

Maier-Johnson stresses that there were no missteps when implementing the security solutions – both Carbon Black Cloud Endpoint Advanced and Carbon Black App Control were up and running smoothly in under two months. Carbon Black Cloud empowers the CISO and his IT team not only to ward off cyberattacks, but also to analyse activities on the devices, adjust preventive measures in response to new threats and automate previously manual workflows throughout the entire security infrastructure. The confidentiality of patient data thus remains securely protected. The Carbon Black App Control is able to control critical servers and systems to prevent undesirable modifications and guarantees consistent compliance with all relevant legal specifications.

As a result, it is easy for the staff of Asklepios to work from anywhere – and to do so using virtual desktops that are more securely protected. Even the unprecedented circumstances relating to the Coronavirus have created no problems.

“Thanks to VMware, we were able to respond flexibly to the pandemic,” said Maier-Johnson. “We were immediately able to work securely from home.”

Former IT silos are also not an issue, given that data sharing now meets the highest standards. It is much safer and more convenient to use patient portals, access the wireless LAN in the cafeteria or book appointments online. “By guarding sensitive patient data against cyberattacks and data breaches, we are bolstering our reputation as a trusted, security-conscious healthcare group,” Maier-Johnson said.

Thanks to VMware, the hospital operator can do more than merely keep up with constant changes in the industry, it can also respond quickly and flexibly to medical advances and changing political conditions. As Maier-Johnson sees it, these cutting-edge technologies make Asklepios more attractive to new employees and is an integral aspect of their success. Ultimately, the 2 million+ patients served every year at the Asklepios hospitals benefit from excellent standards of treatment and medical research, and also from personalised processes and faster diagnoses.

AI and robotics for medical innovation

Building on this experience, the Asklepios Group is keen to leverage its IT to also tap into new lines of business. Going forward, there are plans for additional IT services for internal use and for a new self-service platform for apps. Preparations are underway to use VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud to protect medical devices, too. The aim is for largely insular medical equipment to be incorporated in the Asklepios network with all key security functions. “Digitalisation will help new digital services and offerings to emerge,” said Maier-Johnson. “For the future, we are thinking about the greater use of AI, automation and robotics innovations for both patients and staff. As such, we are driving advances in medical care.”

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