WiFi in hospitals: A moving target

'Mobile is a very disruptive technology.'
By Jeff Rowe
09:51 AM

Keeping both hospital guests and clinicians happy is not easy, especially when it comes to meeting their need for WiFi. And it's not likely to get any easier.

mobile health conference

[See also: At VC forum, making money for mHealth]

Ali Youssef is senior clinical mobile solutions architect at Detroit, Michigan-based Henry Ford Health System and he says maintaining an adequate wireless network in a hospital setting requires aiming at a constantly moving target.

"You can't predict what’s coming in the future," he said recently. "Mobile is a very disruptive technology. For example, you couldn’t predict the emergence of the iPhone or iPad."

[See also: At VC forum, making money for mHealth.]

With his presentation, "Are you ready for Wi-Fi and mHealth?" Youssef will be participating in a panel discussion titled "Nuts and Bolts: Creating a Wireless Infrastructure," on Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. at the HIMSS Media mHealth Summit in Arlington, Va.

[See also: IT-enabled docs leverage mHealth tools]

Youssef will talk about his experience planning and implementing the HFHS wireless network, which, he said, now includes expanding coverage from 4 to 8 million square feet, while also taking into account the requirements of a new, enterprise-wide EMR system.

In particular, he's going to focus on the challenges of provisioning bandwidth appropriately to all different devices sharing bandwidth.

It's when you begin to consider the range of constituencies using a hospital wireless network that  the complexity comes clear.

According to Youssef, the majority of wireless users at HFHS are the guests.  The fact is, guests can only be allotted so much bandwidth, as the most important users are the doctors, other caregivers and lab technicians who need bandwidth for everything from their personal smartphones and tablets to x-ray machines to enterprise-level PACS.

In Youssef’s experience, one of the keys to ensuring adequate bandwidth is regular contact with clinicians.

"Vendors have direct access to clinicians," he noted, "so they can pitch a product pretty easily."

[See also: IT-enabled docs leverage mHealth tools.]

That may not be a problem if the clinician is working within a predetermined enterprise budget, but Youssef said that if, for example, the clinician is working with grant money, wireless managers can suddenly find themselves having to accommodate a significant draw on their bandwidth that they had not anticipated.

"I’ve found that you really have to meet with clinicians from different departments (on a regular basis) and then try to develop your architecture around what their goals are."

Still, there are some general guidelines network architects can follow in order to ensure effective continuity, including planning a high level of system redundancy, conducting proper site surveys,  and continuously working to keep tabs on the kinds of devices that are going to be used, while also testing them to see how they behave on the network.

And then, of course, there are security considerations, which Youssef said involves always making sure you’re abiding by the ever-changing regulations.

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