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October 2016

Is Your Hospital Adapting to Network Demands?
By Bob Zemke
For The Record
Vol. 28 No. 10 P. 28

In an effort to meet the demands of government-mandated requirements, health care organizations have placed a significant focus on rolling out EHR systems. In the midst of this makeover, new technology continues to make its way into the hospital, where patients are seeing an influx of apps and data used by physicians, which in turn is increasingly shifting the way critical information is delivered. With the rise of apps and other connected devices, hospitals and other health care facilities are becoming more dependent on extensive, secure Wi-Fi networks.

For HIT professionals, this means adapting to keep pace with technology is more critical than it's ever been. With an effective and extensive Wi-Fi network, organizations can leverage important tools, including clinical communications systems, video apps, patient/guest internet access, real-time location services, and wireless medical devices.

A recent survey of health care professionals, conducted by Extreme Networks, identified important trends in Wi-Fi usage, including how the technology impacts facility operations and promotes better patient care.

Security, Compliance Paramount
One of the top concerns of HIT professionals is how to properly safeguard protected health information. For example, ransomware attackers are continuously finding more sophisticated ways to encrypt files on individual and core servers that can prevent an entire organization from accessing critical information. A recent survey conducted by Healthcare IT News and HIMSS Analytics found that as many as 75% of US hospitals may have been hit with ransomware attacks in the last year, with only 25% either not targeted or unsure whether they were.

These findings are significant because disruptions in a health care setting can have more impact than if they occurred within other organization types such as retail. With many health care organizations currently using or about to add wireless devices such as IV pumps, blood gas analyzers, telemetry systems, mobile X-ray machines, ultrasound units, hemodialysis devices, and glucose meters to their wireless local area networks, taking a proactive approach to preventing this type of extortion is a top priority.

To properly protect health care data, it's important to give IT teams the ability to apply policy from any network node to any individual device accessing the network, whether it is a patient device or a life-critical medical device. Additionally, providers must establish efficient and centralized control of both wired and wireless network infrastructure in addition to resources that simplify management, ease troubleshooting, and enhance network reporting. This provides visibility into application usage across the entire network and can protect against suspicious or malicious use of these valuable resources.

Being reactive isn't enough. Hospitals must focus on having plans in place that prevent attacks in the first place.

Legacy Communication on Its Last Legs
The mounting number of mobile apps and how they are being used in conjunction with next-generation medical devices continues to be a major focus of IT departments. With the increasing emphasis on patient-centric care, consumer smartphones and mHealth have played a key role in facilitating ways to improve clinical workflows that can affect patient outcomes.

Integrating these apps allows health care professionals to engage with patients on an unprecedented level, which creates more opportunities to deliver an added degree of care. However, as more patients rely on this type of service and responsiveness, hospitals and IT professionals must continue to develop the added infrastructure that will enable them to deliver on those promises.

Because current communication and business models in these organizations are not as equipped to handle the influx of patient data that are resulting from more devices being added to the network to collect that information, mobile devices are a solid solution. However, whether it is a phone, tablet, or computer, hospitals still struggle with the idea of having clinical staff use consumer-grade devices in the workflow.

Moving forward, to ensure that a facility gets the most out of its Wi-Fi network, HIT professionals should be prepared to discuss the best uses of mobile devices and apps as they relate to patient care. For example, physicians and IT teams need to work together to determine the tasks where mobile devices and apps would be most effective. While physicians viewing their patient list on their smartphone may be practical on a smaller screen, reviewing clinical studies and examining patient X-rays is obviously not as effective on those devices.

To ensure network reliability and that resources are being allocated properly, IT teams must develop procedures and protocol for using mobile devices.

Network Performance
With additional devices coming onto the network, it's not surprising that bandwidth and Wi-Fi performance will continue to be a concern for health care organizations. Today's providers leverage more technology than ever, a trend that's unlikely to end anytime soon as more institutions move patient data and files to the cloud. To keep pace, proper network bandwidth support that provides constant, reliable access to this information is vital.

A modern network infrastructure allows health care organizations to deploy best-in-class technologies, such as smart medical imaging devices, telemetry, health monitoring, and next-generation asset management, for treatment and prevention. Additionally, EHR systems are laying the foundation for a more streamlined and less error-prone health care system, allowing providers the opportunity to enter data in real-time via mobile devices.

There are other operational advantages as well, such as those achieved through cloud-based apps for resource planning and project management, improved e-mail functionality, and enhanced collaboration possibilities. An assortment of analytics apps on the network can help health care systems collect valuable data and take action in real time.

In addition, advances in wireless local area network capabilities are enabling better patient and guest experiences through Wi-Fi services. High-speed guest access allows family members to communicate freely while a loved one is in the hospital. Network apps and streamlined health care data management lead to a better patient experience, adherence to treatment protocols, and, ultimately, improved outcomes. Moving forward, hospitals must continue to address bandwidth-related strains on the network and be on the lookout for areas where they can be improved.

Continued Progress
In short, the world of wireless in health care is constantly evolving. To keep pace, hospitals and IT professionals must adapt to ensure they are meeting patient expectations and providing quality access to care. As security, mobility, and performance continue to drive the conversation forward moving into 2017, hospitals must ensure that they are on path to address these concerns.

— Bob Zemke is director of health care solutions at Extreme Networks.