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Healthcare Wireless Network Upgrades Needed for the IoT

Healthcare wireless network solutions are growing to accommodate more advanced Internet of Things and IT infrastructure tools.

Healthcare wireless networks require upgrades to support the Internet of Things.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare wireless networks are the foundation of health IT infrastructure, supporting new and advanced infrastructure deployments. The increase in connected medical, Internet of Things (IoT), and mobile devices are pushing the WLAN market to grow at a CAGR of 30 percent through 2021, according to a recent report by ReportsnReports.

The research suggests that the rise in WLAN technology is due to the demand for WiFi connectivity at all times. Clinicians and patients expect fast and secure network connectivity everywhere, no matter what task they are performing.

Clinicians are becoming more dependent on mobile devices as organizations are advancing their company IT infrastructures. These mobile devices depend on wireless connectivity for emergency alerts and the retrieval of vital information.

“In a healthcare setting, the network has to be extremely reliable because it’s literally life or death,” Aruba Networks Product Marketing Manager Rick Reid told HITInfrastructure.com. “You have to plan coverage capacity, backup systems, and application intelligence just to make sure that things work - and that they work 24/7.”

Healthcare organizations overhauling their wireless network infrastructure to meet these demands are facing challenges when it comes to deploying access points (APs) and managing the network.

More devices mean periods of heavier traffic that can slow down critical legacy systems. Organizations are not only faced with restricted bandwidths that can’t support the increased connections, but they are also challenged by physical barriers.

Large hospitals in urban environments need to adjust their wireless infrastructure to contend with other conflicting wireless networks in the area, and physical barriers (i.e. building materials) that block radio frequencies.

Investing in an advanced, well planned network infrastructure is one of the first steps in embracing new innovative medical devices.

Most medical devices are required to have network connection capabilities. However, without the wireless network to support it, the devices cannot be fully utilized. Advanced medical IoT devices include biomedical devices, physiological monitors, mobile medical apps, and MRI/CT/ultrasound scanners.

Organizations may have to support up to 85,000 medical IoT devices that are constantly communicating with the network. Not only is traffic an issue, but managing all the network connections is also a challenge.

Extreme Networks Director of Healthcare Solutions Bob Zemke explained that wireless networks need to be able to distinguish urgent signals from non-urgent signals.

“It has to be designed just like air traffic control,” stated Zemke. “We have to look at the critical devices and how to prioritize them. We start with mission critical systems, life critical, telemetry, emergency communications, nurse call, then we look at maybe the business applications and systems, and everything else needed to support the clinicians' access and their devices. What bandwidth is left you typically have to provide for the patients.”

Wireless networks don’t simply support all connected devices during periods of high traffic. The networks also must prioritize signals and tell the difference between a clinician looking at a patient record during a routine checkup and a clinician looking at a patient record in the ICU or emergency room. The network needs to determine which action is more urgent.

Entities are looking for healthcare network management solutions to help manage advanced infrastructure technology such as virtualization, cloud, and the IoT. Network management solutions include device monitoring and analyzing how network bandwidth is affected by the devices accessing it. It also monitors permissions so only authorized devices can access the network.

Healthcare organizations are faced with upgrading their network infrastructure to gain more network visibility and control over connected and IoT devices. Healthcare wireless networks are about more than just providing a connection, they must understand connections and prioritize them.