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Wireless Medical Device Proliferation Could Overwhelm Networks

Wireless networking quality has become a safety and security issue as the number and type of wireless medical devices, such as EKG/ECG, patient monitoring, and imaging system devices, proliferate.

wireless networking

Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- Monitoring and managing wireless medical devices and reducing downtime on wireless networks are top priorities for healthcare organizations in improving clinician productivity and patient care quality, according to a survey of Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Technology (AEHIT) members by Nyansa.

Wi-Fi network quality has become a safety and security issue as the number and type of wireless medical devices, such as EKG/ECG, patient monitoring, and imaging system devices, proliferate, the survey found.

More than 90 percent of survey participants treat the wireless network as “mission critical” and view any downtime is “high risk.”

Yet, fewer than half of IT departments surveyed have visibility into or control over new Internet of Things (IoT) devices accessing the network.

“AEHIT members care deeply about the care and safety of their patients. Wireless biomedical devices offer many benefits, but the interconnectedness of these devices also poses security challenges that need to be addressed to provide optimal care,” said AEHIT Foundation COO Barbara Sivek.

Security and patching are the two biggest pain points for healthcare IT leaders when it comes to wireless medical devices.

“The combination of device proliferation and complexity is exposing healthcare organizations to security issues that could be life critical,” observed the report based on the survey results.

More than half of respondents said their organization does not have a policy on the use of wired or wireless network connection for devices that impact patient safety.  

Fewer than 50 percent of healthcare IT organizations have a pro­active approach to monitoring the performance of devices critical to patient safety, the survey found.

More than half of the healthcare IT organizations surveyed support medical devices, but few have in place the means to proactive monitor them.

“As wireless mobility takes hold in hospitals and single-purpose biomedical devices appear within access networks, IT leaders face new pressures to ensure the highest levels of performance, security and operational efficiency,” the report concluded.

The next-generation Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking standard could provide a lot more bandwidth for all of these wireless medical devices, reducing the risk of network overload.

Last month, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced Wi-Fi Certified 6 providing higher data rates, increased capacity, strong performance, and improved power efficiency compared with previous Wi-Fi versions.

“The rollout of this Wi-Fi 6 certification is another exciting step forward for the unlicensed ecosystem. Wi-Fi 6 brings enhanced performance to connected environments and will be key for powering next-generation use cases,” said Biongo Wireless CTO Derek Peterson.

The new standard will benefit hospitals in particular given the connectivity requirements of the many digital tools now used by modern hospitals.

The increased capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 could ease hospital connectivity problems created by many access points in locations that face wireless signal restrictions as well as by devices that may interfere with each other.

“Wi-Fi continues to be a predominant technology for accessing the internet, with a strong history of success,” said ABI Senior Research Analyst Andrew Zignani. “Wi-Fi Certified 6 will further escalate Wi-Fi’s role, with more than one billion Wi-Fi 6 chipsets expected to be shipped annually in 2022.”

The healthcare IoT market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11 percent, reaching $14.7 billion by 2022, according to Zion Market Research.

This market growth will be spurred by deployment of connected diagnostic and therapeutic devices to detect disease and monitor and maintain patient health, as well as fitness and wellness devices.

The systems and software segment is forecast to experience the highest growth rate: 2.6 percent CAGR through 2022. The remote patient monitoring segment is predicted to see an 11.3 percent CAGR through 2022.

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