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Automated HealthCare Solutions Leverages F5 Availability and Security Features to Better Serve Customers

Automated HealthCare Solutions needed to provide security, performance, and high availability for its software-as-a-service applications. Deploying an F5 solution, the company was able to consolidate existing solutions from multiple vendors with a single, unified platform. AHCS has streamlined its infrastructure, improved security, and ensured it has a platform for future growth to better serve its customers.

Business Challenges

Automated HealthCare Solutions (AHCS) provides Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications for physicians who serve workers’ compensation patients and patients covered by personal injury protection insurance. Relying on its core applications, ezVerify and ezDispense, physicians can confirm patients’ insurance benefits and dispense medications onsite. Other applications enable clinics to comply with regulatory requirements and ensure that physicians get paid on time.

“We have pushed the industry to become more automated,” says Gene Escanaverino, Chief Technology Officer at AHCS. “Our approach is to provide comprehensive solutions that help physicians focus on what they do best—practice medicine—rather than being concerned with applications and the technology behind them.”

Originally serving four clinics in the Miami area, AHCS now provides services in 42 states and processes more than 60,000 claims per month.  With claims volume continually increasing, however, AHCS was beginning to see the limitations of its multi-vendor infrastructure, which had become increasingly complex and difficult to manage.

“We had firewalls from one vendor, a load balancer from another, a third vendor’s appliance for secure access—and we were looking at adding more single-purpose boxes,” Escanaverino says. “We were constantly managing multiple license renewals, and running into performance roadblocks. We also were vulnerable to equipment failures, and in the healthcare industry, we don’t have the luxury of downtime.”

AHCS had a vision to build a more robust, streamlined infrastructure that would provide the capacity and performance necessary to serve its rapidly growing customer base. “We also needed to meet regulatory requirements by providing secure remote access and protecting sensitive data in both the network and our applications,” says Escanaverino. “Security is nonnegotiable for us and we wanted to partner with a company that would support our vision.” 

“We chose F5's ‘Best’ licensing option, which gave us access to the full suite of BIG-IP product modules—all of the existing and new functionality we needed. It was a very strong business case that met our financial expectations and enabled us to reduce our total cost of ownership.” Edward Dibeler, Chief Information Officer at AHCS

Solution

After evaluating solutions from several networking vendors, AHCS chose F5 because it enabled the company to consolidate multiple existing network appliances, firewalls, and application delivery services on a single, unified platform.

“We had in-depth architecture design discussions with the F5 account team, who had the technical expertise to assure us we were headed in the right direction,” says Edward Dibeler, Chief Information Officer at AHCS. “It was very helpful to understand how F5’s Synthesis vision for Software Defined Application Services (SDAS) can help us unify several critical services on a single platform while simplifying our overall infrastructure.”

F5’s Good-Better-Best licensing model also played a role in the company’s purchasing decision. The “Best” option includes all the BIG-IP components necessary for AHCS to intelligently manage and route network traffic, ensure performance and availability, and secure its applications and data.

“The ‘Best’ licensing option gave us access to the full suite of BIG-IP product modules—all of the existing and new functionality we needed,” says Dibeler. “It was a very strong business case that met our financial expectations and enabled us to reduce our total cost of ownership.”

AHCS expected the deployment process to take three months, but the project went from testing to production in just five days. “Our installation and integration was amazingly fast,” Escanaverino says. “F5 sent its engineers out and we did the entire migration in only two weeks. The solution was plug-and-play, so our customers benefited from the technology enhancements almost immediately.”

“Having a single platform from which to intelligently manage traffic, control user access, and provide application and network security was the best thing an engineer could ask for. I have just one place to manage the entire network.” Daniel Van Benthuysen, Senior Network Engineer at AHCS

Benefits

With the F5 solution, AHCS has achieved its objectives to deliver the best performance, availability, and security for customers of its SaaS applications. At the same time, the new solution simplifies its infrastructure and provides much needed peace of mind for the IT team.

Consolidated and streamlined infrastructure

Because it’s built on a unified platform, the BIG-IP solution enabled AHCS to replace most of its existing network appliances. “All of that previous complexity in our network has been replaced by just two BIG-IP devices that back each other up, and they’re essentially bulletproof,” says Escanaverino.

Senior Network Engineer Daniel Van Benthuysen shares Escanaverino’s enthusiasm about the consolidation. “Having a single platform from which to intelligently manage traffic, control user access, and provide application and network security was the best thing an engineer could ask for. Now I have just one place to manage the entire network.” This relieves the management burden on the IT team so it can devote more time to app deployment and customer service.

Improved performance, availability, and reliability

In its previous environment, AHCS was not satisfied with the performance of its applications, however, performance is no longer a challenge. “We no longer have issues with our applications getting bogged down or locked up,” says Escanaverino. “We’ve seen better performance not only with our proprietary applications but also with our phone servers. And our BizTalk and SQL servers are working like new.”

In the future, AHCS will leverage BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager to distribute incoming traffic across multiple data centers, fine-tuning requests based on a user’s location, browser, and means of access. “We have customers throughout the country, so intelligently routing traffic at a global level is critical to our business,” says Van Benthuysen.

Enhanced security

With the comprehensive security features built into the BIG-IP platform, AHCS can protect its network, applications, users, and data and comply with stringent healthcare industry regulatory requirements.  

AHCS leverages BIG-IP Access Policy Manager to centrally manage user access policies. Using the Visual Policy Editor (VPE), a GUI-based tool, administrators can visually create fine-grained access policy. “We can also lock down and run reports against the user’s activity,” Van Benthuysen says. “Now we can be very particular about where users can and can’t go, and we can easily take a closer look if something unusual happens.”

AHCS developers are also able to test and fortify their proprietary code to make it as secure as possible for customers. By using F5’s web app firewall BIG-IP Application Security Manager (ASM) in learn mode, AHCS’ development team is able to teach the solution acceptable behavior for each application. This not only enables the team to lock down application behavior, it also helps the team spot vulnerabilities such as SQL injection issues in newly customized applications.

“Because BIG-IP ASM learns all the legal scripts and features, abnormal behavior is blocked or notifies us to take a closer look,” Van Benthuysen says. “That feature took a lot of stress off of developers who previously did this on their own. By learning acceptable behavior, BIG-IP ASM is proactive rather than reactive.”

Protecting the network from DDoS and other malicious attacks is also a critical component of the AHCS vision. By taking advantage of BIG-IP Advanced Firewall Manager, the IT team will be able to protect the network and align particular firewall policies with specific applications.

Rich programmability

Using F5’s open APIs, AHCS is already finding ways to add value to its network by building custom dashboards that track activity across the nationwide customer database.

“Before, we weren’t able to use some of the data we had. Now, our ability to analyze data has become a major selling point for the business,” says Escanaverino. “I can tell how many bottles of medication were dispensed in a state by a specific clinic or group of clinics down to the specific physician.”

Peace of mind

Van Benthuysen appreciates the ability to automate SSL offloading and redirect HTTP/HTTPS requests, ensuring outside traffic is routed only through secure servers. This feature paid off during the recent Heartbleed virus scare. “F5 devices don’t use the Open SSL library, which is where the Heartbleed vulnerability originated, so it was never a threat for us,” he says.  “F5 handles all SSL right at the edge of the network, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

Escanaverino sums up his thoughts about the F5 solution, saying, “Giving our clients the freedom to focus on patient care is priceless. Similarly, F5 allows us to maintain our focus on our customers. We couldn't have asked for more."