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Healthcare Wireless Network Upgrades Critical for Future Success

Organizations considering digital tools must upgrade their healthcare wireless networks to support more advanced technology.

healthcare wireless network

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The digitization of IT infrastructure prompts organizations to upgrade their healthcare wireless network to support current and future technology that will help increase workflow and improve patient care.

Last month Lorien Health Services upgraded its wireless solution to support all of its 14 locations using the Aruba Mobile First Network. Lorien provides healthcare to seniors and is primarily a skilled nursing facility with some assisted living.

Lorien Network Engineer Michael Bowman told HITInfrastructure.com how it was able to make the change and what impact it’s had on the organization.

“Our caregivers have more important things to worry about than the WiFi network,” said Bowman. “We finally have a reliable, always-on network. Our staff’s time is spent helping patients and residents, not trying to get connected to the network. Our IT staff can also focus on other tasks now that they don’t have to spend time troubleshooting network issues.”

The first step Bowman took in the process to improve the wireless network was to go beyond off-the-shelf products to ensure that the new hardware would support current and future demands.

READ MORE: Considerations for Deploying Healthcare Wireless Networks

Lorien’s facilities are mostly made of concrete, which is a common, but difficult challenge for wireless deployments. One of the main problems Lorien faced before the upgrade was a lack of blanketed coverage, due in part to the physical structure.

Another challenge Bowman faced was how he wanted to secure the connections.

“There were so many holes in the wireless network. We were using Proxim wireless before with some Cisco, but it was a huge mess,” Bowman explained. “By moving to a single vendor, they were able to come in, give us a centralized management solution for licensing, firmware updates, and access points.”

“We are using firewalls at each access point level,” he continued. “We don't let anything on our corporate network unless it's in our domain and it's a Lorien-known machine or a Lorien mobile device managed machine. We've restricted a lot of those connections because of HIPAA compliance.”

Lorien’s new wireless network solution also has SNMP monitoring, which provides more visibility into network activity.

READ MORE: Visibility, Control Key for Healthcare Wireless Networks

Bowman also reviewed Lorien’s policies to find a balance between user friendliness and security.

“We didn't want everyone to have to log in every time they walked from access point to access point,” said Bowman. “We've made significant improvements. We can push out up to a Gig now as long as the device supports the latest technology.”

Bowman replaced most of Lorien’s controllers but he left several legacy controllers because they were still functioning well and covered under warrantee. Organizations with strict budgets can benefit greatly from the lifetime warrantees many vendors include with their wireless hardware.

“I would never suggest leaving anything to function without a full top-level support on it,” Bowman explained. “However, I've got a couple controllers that are aging out that I haven't upgraded yet, and there's no sense in getting support on it. They're still covered under lifetime warrantee for equipment failure, which as a big plus for me.”

That being said, Bowman stressed the importance of going with the vendor that offers all of the features an organization is looking for, even if it’s not the cheapest option. Bowman tested other vendor solutions and communicated with network engineers at other healthcare organizations before settling on Aruba.

READ MORE: Healthcare Wireless Network Coverage, Capacity Top Challenge

“I don't mind paying for a good quality service. And I've configured them with quality service policies,” Bowman explained. “We have some voice over IP between our iPads and our care management solutions. We've enabled WiFi calling in the buildings because our cellular coverage isn’t good. Resident care givers can now do what they need to do. We've just essentially gone from a Pinto to a Ferrari.”

Bowman added that he opted for an on-premises network deployment over a cloud-based one, citing better control as the primary reason.

“I'm a hands-on guy, so that's why I did on-premise versus cloud,” he stated. “I would recommend the on-premise versus cloud just because you have more control, and you're not internet dependent. However, the cloud service does work well. A couple of the other folks that I talked to said they were using the cloud service, but most of the engineers I've talked to are on‑premise.”

“With cloud-based controllers the only thing on premise would be your access points,” Bowman added. “Everything else is managed from the cloud. You can do a hybrid solution as well, with some controllers on-site and some in the cloud.”

Regardless of a cloud or on-premises deployment, Bowman advised that healthcare organizations make sure they work with their engineers and design their networks, SSIDs, and their coverage based on geography, brick and mortar, throughput, and capacity needs.

The improved network infrastructure allows Lorien to consider other more advanced digital tools in the future.

“Everything we do at Lorien is scalable,” concluded Bowman. “We purchased all of our products and controllers based on some of the new telemedicine technologies that we will be bringing in house. Some of it was being deployed before, and a lot of it was a parallel effort while I was deploying the controllers.”

Upgrading the wireless network is critical to the success of current and future digital tools as well as workflow and patient care. Entities cannot introduce solutions into their IT infrastructure without having a wireless network that can support it. Once the network is upgraded and has the capacity to handle more traffic and connected device, organizations can benefit from improved data access and tools.