Mainframe Matters: How Mainframes Help the Healthcare Industry Protect Patients

From SHARE HQ, with input from Jessica Muszynski, web engineer at Aetna

The mainframe is at the core of technology strategy in many industries, but critics often question whether it is still relevant. In this “Mainframe Matters” series, we’re examining some of the industries where the mainframe plays a critical role, and answering the question: Why does the IBM Z matter today?

We started the series by exploring how mainframes keep the financial industry running smoothly. Now let’s dive into the healthcare industry. Many of the largest health insurance companies rely on mainframes to run their businesses and safeguard a wealth of sensitive data, from patient records to billing information.

Why is the mainframe the platform of choice for so many healthcare providers and insurers?

Reliability and Minimal Downtime

Jessica Muszynski, web engineer at Aetna, thinks a key selling point is the mainframe’s reliability. “Mainframes really are reliable,” Muszynski explained. “We have hundreds of thousands of transactions that run through them every day, and we hardly have any issues. I’ve been through four on-call rotations on the web engineering team – during those eight weeks, I was far more likely to be paged for non-mainframe related issues.”

Why is reliability so important in the healthcare industry? If the system supporting medical devices is breached or experiences downtime for any reason, that treatment cannot be accurately managed or administered. Any IT or security issues could potentially place patient care at risk.

Reliability is also a concern when it comes to health insurance. Downtime can mean anything from delayed processing of claims to delayed verification of insurance policies at hospitals. According to Muszynski, however, the mainframe is up to the task.

“The mainframe is the best way to process claims quickly and reliably,” she said. “That’s something that matters to everyone, whether you’re sick or a loved one is. If you use insurance, you want your insurer to process the claim as quickly as possible. Theoretically, if our server is down, that wouldn’t happen. The fact that we have so little downtime is key.”

Protecting Patients – and Medical Institutions

Privacy and compliance risks in the healthcare industry are cause for serious concern. Think about the variety and wealth of data that healthcare providers handle on a regular basis: patients’ personally identifiable information (SSNs, addresses, contact information, and more); medical records; doctors’ orders; billing and financial information; and more. All that data needs to be kept secure, and also in compliance with regulations like HIPAA.

That’s another area where mainframes shine. Mainframes have a well-earned reputation as the most securable platform. Some mainframe servers and software now make pervasive encryption of data possible, too. These security measures give organizations some peace of mind, while also helping them protect patients’ data and privacy.

Scalability and Processing Power

When you consider the sheer number of transactions run and data managed through hospitals, other healthcare providers, and insurance companies, it’s clear they need a computing platform prepared to handle heavy volume, without sacrificing speed. More than that, they need a partner that can grow with them.

“What I like about the mainframe is it runs tall and wide,” Muszynski explained. “The way we configure our boxes leaves us room for expansion when needed. So, if there’s a particularly busy Monday, the system knows when to ask for more resources, and knows when to shut them down once the processing is done. And if the situation is more complicated than that, the team that sets the configurations can ‘flip a switch,’ add on the processing power we need, and then turn it off when the issue is resolved.”

Why Do Mainframes Matter Today?

At SHARE, we know mainframes are an indispensable asset for businesses of all kinds. Consider the following stats:

  • Mainframes host critical core IT for: 92 of the world’s top 100 banks; 23 of the 25 top airlines; 9 of the top 10 global life and health insurance providers; and 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
  • Mainframes are capable of running 30 billion transactions per day; hold 80 percent of the world’s business data; and handle 87 percent of all credit card transactions, according to IBM.
  • Mainframes consume only 2 percent of worldwide IT spend, yet they run 68 percent of production workloads and an estimated 220 billion lines of code, with the highest levels of security and reliability.

Stay tuned to this series, as we’ll continue to explore more ways that mainframes matter today.

Check out the SHARE Content Center for more articles, webcasts and presentations touching on important issues in mainframe, including technology, training and industry trends.

Disclaimer: The postings here are those of Jessica Muszynski and do not represent in any way Aetna’s positions or opinions. The information contained on this site is for informational purposes only.

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