Healthcare News & Insights

Wireless networks: What your hospital must consider

Hospital wireless Internet networks have come a long way in supporting technology such as electronic health records (EHRs). But facilities will have to keep upgrading their IT infrastructure so it can handle increasing demand on several fronts. 

ThinkstockPhotos-87151271An article from TechTarget, a company that offers technology solutions for various industries, lays out exactly what hospitals will need to do to keep up with on-site Internet access IT trends.

Devices & equipment

Increasingly, more and more medical devices are designed for use over wi-fi, such as insulin pumps and glucose monitors. This trend is only poised to expand in the future, given the rise of what’s colloquially called the “Internet of things.”

Equipment as simple as coffeemakers and water coolers are gradually receiving the ability to access wi-fi to boost their functionality. Down the line, hospitals will not only be equipped with these appliances, but will have sophisticated medical equipment running on their wireless network. So facilities will need to have adequate capabilities to operate all these devices.

Be sure you’re communicating with your IT department about the possibility of upgrading your wireless network to handle increased traffic. Specifically, ask about the feasibility of installing a 802.11a wireless network.

Many healthcare systems are upgrading their wireless network to 802.11ac technology, which boasts faster speeds and an increased capability to transmit large amounts of data without bogging down the wireless connection. This reduces the likelihood that a network outage will cripple hospital operations.

Wi-fi for visitors

Another area that may clog hospital wireless networks: Maintaining a “guest network” where patients and visitors can access wi-fi on their personal devices.

Guest networks are provided as a courtesy to patients and their families, and they’ve become par the course for many facilities. Visitors expect to be able to use a hospital’s wi-fi to work, send email and check social media sites on laptops and smartphones.

But some people’s activities may put excessive strain on the network. They may want to sit in the waiting room for hours streaming TV shows on Netflix or playing bandwidth-intensive games on a laptop. That not only limits other users’ access to the network, it can be more taxing on your IT department – and can even drive up the costs of maintaining your network.

For this reason, hospital guest networks must be treated differently than the main wireless network used for hospital operations. It’s a good idea to restrict your guest network’s bandwidth, even as you expand the capabilities of your hospital’s main network. It’s also smart to forbid streaming on the guest network altogether to head off problems with excessive bandwidth use.

Security concerns

On both the main network and the guest network, it’s crucial for your hospital to adhere to best security practices. That way, you’ll avoid HIPAA violations caused by any data breaches.

With that in mind, be sure that your hospital’s main wireless network is encrypted to limit outsider access to patient’s protected health information. Ask your IT department about Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and whether your network meets the most recent security standards.

It’s also important to set strict requirements for the types of devices that can connect to hospital wireless networks. Personal devices owned by hospital staff should only be allowed to access patient data on your hospital’s network in limited circumstances – and only if they’re properly encrypted to prevent unauthorized data access.

And when it comes to the guest network, patients and their families should have limits on the types of information they can access, including medical records data, as it’s easier for this information to fall into the wrong hands.

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