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Site Surveys Ensure Reliable, Secure Healthcare Wireless Networks

Site surveys are one tool organizations can use to make sure their healthcare wireless network is reliable and secure.

healthcare wireless network

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations often struggle with obtaining a stable and secure healthcare wireless network. More connected medical devices and Internet of Things (IoT) devices are constantly being added to the network, which can create slow and dropped connections.

The healthcare industry is increasingly relying on networked tools to provide better patient care. When these tools are slow to connect to the network, clinician workflow is interrupted and patients can be put at risk as well.

Entities also have to make sure their network meets compliance standards. Network assessments and wireless site surveys are critical to making sure connections are reliable and HIPAA compliant.

Wireless site surveys are important to every network assessment, but Wi-Fi enabled technology and the need for mobile access make site surveys an even more essential part of healthcare network deployment.

When introducing the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard to an organization, conducting a survey will ensure that access points (APs) are performing at peak capability.

HIPAA regulations play a major part in setting up a wireless health network. These networks aren’t directly responsible for protected health information (PHI) but can act as the first line of defense when it comes to protecting patient data.

Wireless networks can comply with HIPAA standards for administrative, physical, and technical safeguards by focusing on several components comprising a secure health network security:

  • Access control
  • Auditing
  • Integrity
  • User authentication
  • Transmission security

Identifying where and how current networks need to improve to meet these standards can’t be done without a wireless site survey.

Before the survey is conducted, understanding the current issues end-users are experiencing with network connectivity and overloaded bandwidth will point out known problem areas. The site survey will identify why these problems are occurring and map out solutions that can be implemented throughout an organization.

Establishing the placement and number of APs needed for a facility to gain full and efficient wireless coverage is the main purpose of site surveys.

Surveys can also detect signal interference and outside access holes that can be potentially accessed by unauthorized users. Larger facilities such as hospitals can suffer dead-zones and other obstructions that may go misidentified if a survey is not conducted.

Many factors can contribute to weak signal strength and each healthcare facility has its own unique physical factors that can disrupt signals. Building materials, wall thickness, and approximation to other wireless networks in the area can all negatively impact a network because Wi-Fi relies on radio frequency (RF) signals. Heavier materials often used in older buildings can block these signals, leaving each AP with a smaller coverage area.

A site survey will analyze an entire structure and identify physical obstacles that can block a signal and map out hot-spots and dead-zones over building blueprints.

Conducting the survey and testing the network must be done while the network is being used to simulate connections during peak hours. If the survey is done after-hours, the tools can’t properly gauge how the network handles heavy traffic, mobile interaction, and how people can physically interfere with the signal.

Planning out a wireless network needs to be done thoroughly and all potential obstacles must be considered. Organizations often underestimate the impact physical network signal barriers that prevent connectivity in certain locations.

Understanding how a network is being used by biomedical devices, mobile devices, and guests is key when complying with HIPAA regulations and keeping electronic health data safe. Many security events can be prevented by a well-planned and stable wireless network.

Updating a wireless network is a huge undertaking, but investing time and money into a complete upgrade will reduce future cost of repairs and small upgrades, and increase user productivity.

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