Wireless Technologies in Healthcare...It's No Longer Optional

Wireless Technologies in Healthcare...It's No Longer Optional

By Justin Fair, Director, IT Infrastructure, UMC Health System

Justin Fair, Director, IT Infrastructure, UMC Health System

Wireless Technologies have evolved significantly over time from something that was simply a nice to have and convenient option to a business service that is required in order to save lives. Within healthcare, as in most industries, the ability to be mobile and quickly execute your job is now dependent upon a solid wireless infrastructure. Within healthcare both physicians and patients now expect to connect their devices to your corporate wireless network and receive service and coverage that works all the time in every corner whether it be for their tablet, laptop, mobile gaming device or the IV pumps controlling medications, performing remote patient heart monitoring or critical vital signs monitoring to notify hospital staff in the event of a potential life-threatening situation. The wireless landscape has changed and is now a required service that if not architected, deployed and managed successfully will result in frustrated and unhappy end users, physicians, patients, and customers regardless of your industry.

"Within healthcare, lives depend on a solid wireless infrastructure"

As we deploy new technologies to our end users, it is critical to assess your current environment and never assume that wireless is as good as it can be. Unlike a wired network where once it’s architected and deployed it is fairly static when construction or renovation occurs, and a wall is built, or a new imaging device is installed which emits significant RF interference, it impacts your wireless design and must be accounted for. It is critical to have access to tools and resources that can perform an RF design and analysis. Whether you’re a small business who engages your outsourced IT department or a large corporation which has a team of wireless engineers who focus on supporting your wireless network, it is critical to your business to not become complacent with the mentality of set it and forget it with regards to wireless. The RF analysis tools are relatively inexpensive, but a necessary investment in order to ensure your wireless infrastructure is performing optimally for your end users and customers. Within the healthcare industry, there is almost constant change with mergers and acquisitions or newer and better technologies being implemented. That does not diminish the requirement by doctors, nurses, and patients that expect your wireless infrastructure to send the critical patient data, digital x-ray images and alerts to those who need it within a moment’s notice.

More is NOT always better

With the advancement in wireless technologies and products, it has also become less expensive and easier to manage whether you’re looking at on-premise managed devices or cloud-hosted controllers. As you consider your wireless environment, the philosophy of more is always better does not apply. As a result of performing RF surveys and design analysis, you can potentially reduce the number of access points within an area by better leveraging the settings available with those devices. Those settings vary by vendor and their own technologies, but there are some common considerations. Having more access points in an open area broadcasting every channel at full power may prove to be more harmful to your wireless environment than a smaller number of devices setup with triangulation, auto-negotiating power, tuned roaming handoffs and using a smaller number of channels. There are certain areas where more is better, but it depends upon your environment.

You must ALWAYS consider your environment

There is no perfect building or perfect scenario that best supports your wireless infrastructure. This is true across industries, whether it be manufacturing, construction, education, or transportation. Within healthcare, we must always consider the environment of lead-lined walls within operating rooms or large concrete walls which house large imaging equipment powered by large magnets or equipment that is providing treatment for cancer to our patients. We must always consider the environment and the impact it has on the service we are providing to our end users and customers. If you don’t understand and consider your physical environments, you will likely have holes within your wireless environment. Your tools may show that your access points are pushing a strong signal, but that signal may be no match for a lead-lined or concrete wall you didn’t know existed.

Don’t become complacent

Working within IT for many years, one of the most common complaints you here when something is not working is that it’s the network. As we have become more dependent and expectant on wireless networks that have increased the ante. With a wired LAN, it’s easy to troubleshoot…you have physical cables, fiber modules, ports, and link lights. With wireless…how do you troubleshoot something you can’t see. It’s literally like chasing a ghost, and the first battle cry from our end users, customers, and patients is…it’s the wireless. A common joke across IT and across industries is that it’s always the network so don’t let that mantra hold true within your organization. We can’t become complacent thinking that we have it all figured out. This requires support from the C-Suite Executives in the form of budgetary support and understanding the criticality of wireless as a required IT business service all the way to front line engineers who may view the RF analysis and design as non-important or a non-glamorous part to their job. The next time you, a family member or friend is visiting a healthcare facility I’m sure you would want to know that your critical data is being sent and seen by the doctors and nurses as quickly as it is captured by the wireless device that’s sending it. Within healthcare, lives depend on a solid wireless infrastructure…it’s no longer optional.

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