A Hospital's Journey to Become Intelligent and Low-carbon

Beijing Tongren has deployed advanced solutions to adapt its hospital infrastructure from digital to green and intelligent.

By Liu Yanting, Director of the Information Center, Beijing Tongren Hospital & Zhang Yang, Huawei
HUAWEI TECH 2022 Issue 02

Data centers: The key to making hospitals intelligent

In June 2021, China's State Council issued guidelines on the high-quality development of public hospitals, highlighting the role of IT in this process and calling for efforts to further integrate next-gen IT, such as cloud computing, big data, IoT, blockchain, and 5G, into medical services.

Driven by data-centricity, new hospital services are constantly increasing requirements on IT, as intelligent healthcare, management, and services continue to develop.

Intelligent healthcare: As well as meeting the basic service requirements of healthcare professionals, hospital IT systems can combine medical knowledge with IT, like big data and AI, to provide hospital staff with functions such as data queries, medical knowledge reminders , and guidance on clinical decisions.

Hospital operations and management: With intelligent IT systems, hospital management can view the statistical reports of different departments and acquire a full view in real time at multiple levels and from multiple perspectives through indicators such as inputs, outputs, and costs. Big data analytics and AI provide deeper insights into daily activities and enable an agile response during hospital operations and management by supporting data-driven decision-making.

Intelligent services: An intelligent hospital covers end-to-end services ranging from booking appointments, telemedicine, mobile payments, and medicine delivery to AI-powered health management and intelligent consultations. 

Internet-based medical services have tremendous development potential and data centers are therefore vital to new hospital infrastructure. Building new hospital data centers to unleash the potential of new infrastructure is crucial to realizing intelligent, green, and low-carbon hospitals in the new era.

So how has Beijing Tongren Hospital Affiliated to Capital Medical University managed to transform itself from digital to green and intelligent?

Two major challenges

Founded in 1886, Beijing Tongren Hospital is a large tertiary hospital that focuses on ophthalmology (eye disorders and treatment) and otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat). It has 68 clinical and technical departments and handles 2.9 million outpatient and emergency visits every year.

The hospital understands the value of next-generation IT in development and management. It’s working to build an intelligent hospital system that integrates healthcare, services, and management, including maintaining electronic medical records (EMRs), and enable intelligent management. After transformation, it hopes to provide patients with more efficient, secure, convenient, and high-quality services.

Beijing Tongren Hospital’s infrastructure needed to adapt to two trends on the path to becoming intelligent: new medical technologies and new business models.

First, the hospital's legacy information system had outdated architecture, poor reliability, and was vulnerable to single point of failure risks. The storage arrays still used hard disk drives (HDDs), seriously compromising the user experience of core service systems and hindering the launch of new services such as EMRs and mobile apps. The hospital's gradual launch of more than 30 systems, including the Hospital Information System (HIS) and the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), greatly increased the number of physical devices, which created numerous issues. For example, resources were not centrally managed, resource utilization was low, management and maintenance were complex, and O&M costs were increasing every year.

Second, new business models, such as hierarchical medical care, medical big data, and Internet-based healthcare services, were driving change across the entire healthcare industry, with the wide adoption of cloud computing, big data, AI, IoT, and Internet technologies increasingly seen in hospitals. 

Building intelligence with all-flash data centers 

To address these challenges and transform into an intelligent hospital, Beijing Tongren Hospital came up with a top-level design for its information system. The system architecture mainly covers six layers: portal, platform application, resources, hospital information platform, application system, and intelligent infrastructure. Based on this system design, Beijing Tongren Hospital made four transformations:

First, service data: The scope of service data expanded from inpatients and research to include outpatients.

Second, app access: The scope of apps expanded from medical staff to patients.

Third, network architecture: Traditional intranet architecture was expanded to an open Internet interface.

Fourth, the diagnosis and treatment model: The model switched from outpatient diagnosis and treatment to hierarchical medical care or AI-assisted diagnosis and treatment.

Data storage is the foundation of any intelligent hospital and data centers are the key to intelligent transformation. All-flash data centers support data acceleration, enable intelligent O&M, and reduce carbon emissions, allowing them to play a vital role in helping Beijing Tongren Hospital become intelligent.

During its transformation, the hospital focused on three areas:

Performance improvement

Tongren Hospital migrated all its legacy and outdated core services and data, such as HIS and PACS, to high-end flash storage systems. Doing so improved the performance of the intelligent service system and addressed the performance bottlenecks of offline services. The hospital also loaded the cloud resource pools and databases of new services, such as Internet access and registration, onto new high-end flash storage resource pools. 

The solution enables new services to be launched and expanded and facilitates data splitting for online services. By improving the storage performance of the overall intelligent service system, Beijing Tongren Hospital has also greatly shortened outpatient registration time and improved the work efficiency of hospital staff.

The hospital’s storage resource pool supports elastic capacity expansion, meaning more hospital services can be launched in the future as intelligent services continue to experience rapid development in hospitals.

Data protection

In today's big data era, service data should be stored through flash storage acceleration, while hospital data must be protected in all scenarios to enhance business continuity and security. 

Tongren Hospital uses Huawei's OceanStor all-flash storage systems to support active-active disaster recovery for databases and the virtualization layers of core services such as HIS and PACS. This eliminates single point of failure risks while the hospital's core services run 24/7 without interruption. Continuous Data Protection (CDP) and remote replication functions of the all-flash storage systems allow important data to be stored on backup devices, ensuring zero data loss. The disaster recovery management software OceanStor BCManager implements end-to-end disaster recovery management and one-click drills in all scenarios, greatly reducing the workload of O&M staff in the hospital.

Security and reliability

Tongren Hospital's data protection policy covers the full disaster recovery of core data and hot backup of important data. It has achieved this based on Huawei's all-flash data center target architecture, with active-active configuration enabled for key service storage: HIS uses Huawei's OceanStor Dorado 18000 all-flash storage active-active system, while PACS uses Huawei's OceanStor 18510F all-flash storage acceleration active-active system, which supports block/file active-active configuration. The databases and virtualization layer also use Huawei's OceanStor Dorado 18000 all-flash active-active system, while Huawei's OceanStor 5310F active-active system and other products are used in the intelligent medical education system.

Active-active storage configuration means that two all-flash arrays provide redundancy for each other. Even if one array becomes faulty, core services can continue to run 24/7 without interruption or data loss. For important hospital data, the data center uses Huawei's storage systems to implement more secure data backup and protection and reduce the backup period from one day to three seconds, providing assurance against any future risks that the hospital may face.

Intelligent and low-carbon

Hospitals are an important part of China’s stated peak carbon emissions and carbon neutrality goals. While becoming intelligent, hospitals must save energy and reduce carbon emissions, a key starting point for which is to reduce carbon emissions from data centers, which are highly energy-intensive.

According to forecasts by think tanks in the digital power industry, the power consumption of data centers worldwide will increase from 670 billion kWh in 2020 to 950 billion kWh in 2025, accounting for 3% of all power consumed globally.

So how can hospitals build efficient, low-carbon data centers?

All-flash data centers are the first step. An all-flash data center uses solid state drives (SSDs) for at least 90% of its storage capacity, while delivering high-density, high-reliability, low-latency, and high-energy efficiency. At the same capacity, flash drives use 70% less power and require 50% less space than HDDs. It’s estimated that the annual CO2 emissions reduced by replacing a single HDD with a flash drive are equivalent to the annual emissions absorbed by 150 trees, and that new all-flash data centers can reduce power consumption by 21%.

Since becoming intelligent, Beijing Tongren Hospital has been able to provide patients with more efficient, secure, convenient, and high-quality services. Its adoption of all-flash data centers to build a green foundation has proven to be a valuable exploration into how to achieve peak carbon emissions and carbon neutrality in the healthcare industry.