Healthcare Wireless Poses Unique Challenges
The wireless network is an essential element of health IT infrastructure that carries far more traffic, and more types of traffic, than ever before. Healthcare facilities planning wireless networks today need to design them at more than industrial strength to securely and reliably handle an incredible variety of tasks.
Clinicians use the wireless network to access electronic health records (EHRs) securely via laptops and bedside workstations, while patients access the Internet. Wireless networks also must handle VoIP calls, transmit basic medical images and data from medical devices, and support RFID-based real-time location systems (RTLS) to track valuable medical equipment.
In addition, hospital facilities present unique challenges for wireless systems. Most were not designed with wireless networks in mind, and older buildings are just part of the problem. Hospitals are replete with Wi-Fi signal-blocking structures and equipment as well as medical devices that emit RF interference. Any hospital wireless network project must begin with a thorough site assessment.
Smaller Offices Can Benefit Too
Secure network access via high performance wireless also facilitates mobile connectivity, and all its benefits, for physicians' offices and clinics. An integrated wireless infrastructure supports health IT at point of care and unified communications solutions that can help you ensure patient safety, reduce medical errors, and improve workflow and staff productivity.
Access vs. Security
Patients and wireless medical devices need access to hospital wireless networks. Conversely, tighter rules for Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy compliance are forcing facilities to secure networks with encryption and tighter access control, unless they want to risk a data breach.
Facilities can take steps to accommodate guests while maintaining HIPAA privacy compliance such as:
- Keeping patient data and guest activity on separate network partitions
- Limiting guest activity to the browser—no VPN or other applications
- Using public domain name servers for the guest partition
Consider HIPAA guidelines when ordering new wireless medical devices. Not every monitor or wireless intravenous pump can encrypt the bits of data that HIPAA protects, such as name and date of birth, but factor this requirement into buying decisions whenever possible.
Think of Compliance as an Ongoing Process
HIPAA-compliant wireless networks begin with a secure wired network, and then you can tackle wireless security. Evaluate all medical devices currently in use on your hospital's wireless network and maximize your security settings. HIPAA privacy compliance is an ongoing process. Once you have tested for vulnerabilities, and the hospital wireless network is operational, maintain security by retesting.
Don't Forget Your WAN
Wide area network (WAN) managers face bandwidth and connectivity challenges as more healthcare users work from remote locations. VoIP, unified communications, and improved security also place new demands on the network. WAN optimization helps you organize and prioritize your network traffic, giving priority to latency-sensitive services, including VoIP and video, and delivering noticeable performance improvements.
When investing in a network to support mobility, consider technologies like network traffic monitoring, network quality of service, and wide area application servers (WAAS). Add network security technologies such as SSL or IPSEC virtual private networks (VPNs), VLAN segmentation and control, endpoint authentication (802.1x, NAC, NAP), and denial of service protection. Ideally, you should create several layers of defense.
Start with an In-Depth Exam
Connection can help you assess vulnerabilities, implement wireless solutions that meet current needs and offer a path for expansion and upgrades, and achieve the acceptable risk level issued by your compliance officers or Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Our Wireless Site Survey reveals:
- The right amount of coverage for your environment
- The ideal combination of access points and antennas
- Optimum locations for each access point to ensure maximum coverage and performance
If you are experiencing issues with wireless performance or you are considering a move to 802.11n, Connection provides the resources and knowledge to optimize your wireless network. We also offer a Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) Proof of Concept (POC) service to demonstrate the impact of WAAS in your environment.
To learn more, complete our Information Request Form or contact an
Account Executive at 1-800-369-1047.