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Healthcare Mobility Success Depends on Strong Network Connections

Healthcare mobility solutions depend on strong network connections, however many organizations are plagued by physical signal barriers, blocking connections.

healthcare mobility

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations are continuing to implement mobile solutions using WiFi and cellular signals to connect with the network. Entities looking to expand their healthcare mobility capabilities may be unaware of the challenges associated with signal strength and connectivity issues when choosing mobile solutions or even physical locations.

Healthcare organizations are full of connected medical devices, machinery, and other barriers that can block signals, which prevents devices from successfully connecting to the network, according to Medigram CEO Sherri Douville.

“There all these things that interfere in the environment, but the environment is dynamic and most software was never designed with the environment in mind,” Douville told HITInfrastructure.com. “The environment is always changing because new machines are always being added.  The problem is interdisciplinary, and very few companies are even able recognize the problem.”

Lack of communication between IT and the members of an organization who are responsible for a medical facility’s location and building materials can have a significant negative impact on wireless signals.

“Things as simple as plasterboard, dry wall, glass, metal, metal doors, concrete, all absorb WiFi and cell signals,” said Douville. “They absorb and sometimes do so to the extreme degree they block signals.”

READ MORE: Considerations for Deploying Healthcare Wireless Networks

Physical signal obstacles are often not considered when locations and materials are decided upon. Healthcare organizations located in cities that are looking to expand their medical campus will purchase older buildings or buildings intended for a different purpose. These buildings are not conducive to the signaling needs of medical devices and machinery such as MRI or radiation machines.

Even the most advanced medical facilities can be plagued by their own building blocking critical signals and having areas with weak or no cellular or WiFi connectivity. Many organizations don’t think about network connections at all when buying or constructing a building.

“When you think about the decision tree of who designs the building, how it gets funded, and what its purpose is, who is going to have the vision and the technical literacy to foresee that they want to enable free connections as fast as possible?” Douville posited. “Probably no one.”

Lack of signal or dropped signal is so common that organizations need software that will automatically detect variability in the environment and connect devices in the quickest and most secure way possible.

“Health systems that spend millions of dollars upgrading and modernizing their network will still dynamically change because they’re adding new things to the building and they’re bringing in new equipment,” explained Douville. “There’s no one time view of the network.”

READ MORE: Using Broadband to Support Internet of Medical Things

“Organizations need to develop software that adapts dynamically to changes by automatically detecting these connections,” she continued. “It also has to work offline securely or else to the physician it just doesn’t work. That’s why most physicians hate digital health. It has nothing to do with the functionality. It’s the fact that they don’t understand why their digital tools aren’t working and they shouldn’t have to.”

Network signals also become more complicated when bring your own device (BYOD) programs are implemented. Users don’t want to use personal data when they’re using their device for work purposes, so they connect to WiFi instead of cellular even if the cellular signal is stronger.

Understanding the connection between mobility and network infrastructure is the key to ensuring that healthcare mobile solutions will work.

“In health systems, there’s frequently little interaction between the people that manage the network and infrastructure and the people that are planning for clinical applications,” said Douville. “There’s a gap there that needs to be closed and there’s only a few top health systems that have figured out how to marry those two disciplines in a way that’s productive. They don’t understand that their network and infrastructure is the magic key to mobile.”

When mobile devices are not functioning properly, it becomes difficult for clinicians to see the value in their digital tools. Weak network connections cause clinicians to expect their mobile tools to not function properly, which can lead to them not using their mobile tools at all. If the tools aren’t being used it’s a missed opportunity for clinicians to improve patient care and a waste of the organization’s money.

READ MORE: How to Build a Successful Healthcare Mobility Solution

“If hospital executives are going to be successful, they’re going to deploy the Internet of Things (IoT),” Douville explained. “If they’re going to be successful with IoT over the mid to long term in terms of patient monitoring, it means they’re going to have to start being able to be a lot more specific with software and hardware.”

“Software behaves with a cell phone differently than it does on a desktop,” she continued. “The problem is that most engineers that are leading companies have never designed software for a mobile phone. They’ve never even thought of the hardware. They’ve only written software and compiled it into something and then have it appear online. Not understanding the phone as well as the environment it’s operating in will cause mobile solutions to continue to fail unless they’re willing to like dig into those details.”

Douville suggested that organizations conduct a network assessment to begin improving the network. The types of devices being used need to be identified, including which operating systems are being used. The success of current mobile devices also needs to be assessed, along with which wireless vendors are being used for controllers and access points.

Once a clear framework of mobile goals is reached, organizations can begin to assess how they are going to improve connectivity for healthcare mobile success.