Networking News

Guest Networks, IoT Deployments Challenge Health Networks

Guest networks and connected medical IoT devices add extra strain on health IT networks balancing priority traffic.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The constant use of healthcare wireless networks by clinicians, IoT devices, and patients making large-scale network deployment a complicated process. 

Healthcare wireless networks

Large-scale wireless deployments are difficult to manage and maintain. Hospitals and other large healthcare institutions must coordinate access point (AP) placement in high traffic areas with IoT devices constantly connecting to the network, and separating guest access from the main network.

As mobile and IoT devices are used more in the healthcare industry, networks need to be able to identify which data is important and prioritize it, especially in high traffic situations. Urgent medical communication must take precedence over guest access.

In a recent survey of healthcare IT trends, 77 percent of respondents stated their wireless network was being used for guest access. Guest access was the most popular wireless use for respondents followed by clinical communications (66 percent), medical records (55 percent), and medical devices (52 percent).

Guests often spend a significant amount of time visiting loved ones in the hospital and it’s common for them to seek entertainment using streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. These services take up large amounts of bandwidth, slowing down other guests’ access and potentially causing IT to spend time maintaining the guest network rather than the organization’s own network.

Although guests aren’t accessing the network at the same level as the organization’s workers, they are using the same bandwidth which can cause disruptions in service for medical professionals, especially if guests are streaming media or downloading files.

Guest networks often require different access levels as well. Contractors, consultants, and other outside workers coming into a healthcare organization need access to printers, applications, and files. Contractor access requires restrictions, especially if the contractor doesn’t have the clearance level to view certain information.

In addition to guest access, Wi-Fi-enabled medical devices and mobile devices constantly connecting to the network require increased capacity. Legacy network standards such as 802.11n and 802.11g struggle in this scenario because they can only take so much traffic. The 802.11ac standard uses multi-user, multi-input, multi-output (MU-MIMO) technology that greatly increases the capacity for devices that require constant connections.

Wireless networks play a significant role in health data security and  HIPAA compliance makes Wi-Fi network security a priority for any deployment. AHIMA states that one of the biggest concerns healthcare organizations have is wireless network security being as secure as traditional wired networks.

Wireless networks can be as secure as wired networks, but they need to be deployed and secured properly. Wireless network security works differently than traditional wired network security. With organizations quickly adopting cloud computing, many security concerns stem from required changes needed to secure technology using the public internet to connect to private databases and servers. Encrypting data is the first line of defense when deploying a wireless network so if a hack occurs, the information is unreadable.

Solving capacity, density, and coverage issues can be dealt with by conducting a site survey. These surveys determine where to place APs for the best connections and help prevent overloading APs in areas with higher traffic to meet density requirements. Site surveys can also detect how a healthcare organization’s network is affected by those around i, and plan how to prevent interference.

Healthcare wireless networks are constantly utilized making high functionality a top priority for IT decision-makers. Wireless networks are the lifeblood of modern healthcare organizations and are the basis on which new, more advanced technology such as predictive analytics and cloud computing function. Without an updated healthcare wireless network, new technology cannot be successfully deployed.

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