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Wireless networks open up opportunities in healthcare

November 19, 2010 • Opinion

Rudie Raath, Practice Principal, Network Consulting Practice, HP Technology Services

In the business world, wireless networks are growing in importance and uses. More than merely a tool for mobile connectivity, wireless networks help companies surpass their business goals, better serve their customers and gain competitive advantage in the market.

In the healthcare sector, professionals continue to care for more and more patients, as hospitals trim budgets and providers cope with skills shortages. This highly mobile workforce requires reliable communication and high accuracy of data, which is critical in delivering quality patient care. In response to these challenges, leading hospitals, physicians’ offices and healthcare clinics are starting to implement wireless networks to effectively provide doctors and nurses with real-time anywhere, anytime voice communication and instant access to electronic medical records, patient status and other point-of-care applications. They understand that by mobilising key medical applications, they reduce hospital staff errors, provide quick response time, manage secure records, improve diagnostics and increase staff productivity – all together considerably improving the quality of patient care.

Assess your options

Establishing an effective wireless local area network (LAN) infrastructure can be complex, and healthcare enterprises should carefully evaluate their options of offerings against seven key criteria: performance, reliability, security, scalability (capacity to easily upgrade to new and emerging wireless standards), ease of use, fast application delivery of multiple services and security for HIPAA compliance.

The importance of a wireless network

A wireless network is as valuable as its call quality and connection reliability throughout the hospital property. A healthcare provider must be accessible through wireless phones and voice badges at all times, enabling instant notification and rapid response, and allowing key integration to patient services like “nurse call” services to eliminate overhead paging. Information directly at the patient’s bedside speeds up life-saving treatment, increases productivity and reduces errors. Staff must be able to quickly access medical records, images and other clinical applications at the point of care. This allows for accurate administration of medications, efficient delivery of services and procedures and electronic recording of treatments at patients’ bedsides. Computerised physician order entry enables the accurate recording of medications and reduces time needed to send orders out to pharmacies.

A wireless LAN may also be opened up to a diverse set of users. Offering Internet access to patients and visitors helps the healthcare institution project a cutting-edge image and create a competitive advantage in the market. Identity-based network access permits nurses and doctors access to bedside medical records, transport services access to location-tracking applications and patients and visitors access to the Internet. In addition, services can be tailored per application, allowing varying levels of quality of service so that patient care applications receive top priority. For example, voice can be set as high priority, next priority for key point-of-care applications like electronic medical records, computerised physician order entry applications, picture archiving and communications systems, and lowest priority for Internet access.

Privacy of patient health information

A main issue to consider when deploying wireless in a healthcare institution is ensuring its compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and maintaining strict privacy of patient health information. The wireless network must have multiple layers of security to ensure airtight protection and eliminate security breaches. HP Networking offers the advanced ‘defence-in-depth’ solution that enforces security at the network edge, helping safeguard the integrity of confidential patient information and enabling compliance with HIPAA regulations. Robust encryption and authentication grant per-user network authorisation privileges and keep patient information private as it travels over the airwaves. The wireless intrusion detection and prevention guards the hospital’s network from unauthorised access through rogue access points and hacker attacks.

Looking forward

When a healthcare institution considers implementing a wireless LAN, it is important that it not only looks for an “access point”, but that it considers all the services it would like to offer. Whether it is looking for staff access, patient Internet guest access, location tracking, Voice over WLAN or other services, it is important that the chosen wireless solution is scalable, secure, certified, manageable and easy to use. The HP Networking ‘Multi Service Mobility’ solution is a fully flexible solution that meets today’s and tomorrow’s needs for wireless access from all types of users and services.

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3 Responses to Wireless networks open up opportunities in healthcare

  1. Mikko Kaarela says:

    WLAN in definitely coming to healthcare – and many other places – in a big way, given the fact that its early security problems have been resolved and the 802.11n network has improved the capacity to the level of costly and inflexible cable-LAN. What remains to be handled properly is the wireless quality assurance (WQA) as the WLAN is turning from “network of convenience” into an essential component of critical IT infrastructure.

    In life-critical healthcare context wireless quality assurance cannot be based on customer complaints. This calls for continuous, pro-active QA, with centralized 7/24 monitoring and consistent SLA reporting, no matter whose WLAN hardware is in use.

    Luckily, both WLAN vendors and vendor-independent independent WQA suppliers such as 7signal (http://www.7signal.com) are working hard to remove the last obstacle, with healthcare as one of the early adopters of innovative WQA solutions. That is, of course, no wonder as also the regulators are seeing WLAN as a “medical device” if medical devices are connected to it.

  2. The connectivity wireless networks can provide in a healthcare setting is amazing. Bringing relevant patient information to the attending physician, wherever they may be, allows for an entirely new level of healthcare and patient support. At Globaltel Media we’ve tailored our SMS-based messaging solutions to be used for a variety of healthcare related activities. At my company Globaltel Media we have recently customized our SMS messaging platform to deliver everything from appointment logistics/scheduling and remote diagnostics to physicians to relaying rich media content like x-rays and cat scans, all while maintaining HIPAA compliance. The future for mobile technology in healthcare is certainly bright, and I look forward to seeing more people take advantage of the potential patient care benefits it provides. I believe solutions involving SMS could further improve the comprehensive connectivity objective the healthcare industry strives for.

  3. [...] Rudie is a regular contributor to IT News Africa’s Opinion column. Read his thoughts on Unified Communication and wireless networks creating opportunities in the healthcare sector. [...]

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