Hospitals won't ever go completely wireless

By Brian Dolan
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iPad medicalLast month Aruba Networks, one of the big enterprise wireless networking vendors, added device access control specifically for Apple iOS devices to help hospital IT departments and other CIOs to better manage the growing number of Apple devices finding their way into hospitals and the enterprise.

Aruba customer Boston Medical Center plans to institute a "bring your own device" (BYOD) to work policy because of the high interest among its healthcare workers in using their personal iPads on-site.

"We are about to open up our BYOD to work and the iPad is the driver of that," Boston Medical Center's manager of data, voice, and security networks Lee Cullivan wrote in an email. "[The iPad] will be our first non-hospital supported mobile device officially allowed on the network."

Cullivan said his center uses Citrix to enable iPad users to access parts of the center's electronic medical records system.

"[The BYOD initiative will] save IT a ton of time and money but also help hospital personnel to feel like IT is an enabler. In the past IT has always said no to personal devices but with device fingerprinting, and the ability to place personal machines into specific roles that deny access at the controller level, IT looks good again," Cullivan said.

Aruba Networks Director of Healthcare Solutions Gerry Festa told MobiHealthNews that the role of wireless networks is changing dramatically. What was once a network primarily used to service clinicians at their workstations or on laptops is now being used for many more devices.

"Overall we are seeing an onslaught of devices," Festa said. "That includes hospital provided devices, employee brought devices, patient devices, guest devices. Of course, these devices are running different types of applications that require different levels of service engagements."

Festa said that when wireless networks first deployed in hospital settings they were typically installed for a particular group in one area of a facility.

"Typically it was the nursing unit because it needs mobile access to information," Festa said. "They designed the infrastructure in a very specific area of the hospital and usually installed a bunch of access points down the center of the hallway to provide access to workstations on wheels just outside of the patients' rooms."

Now clinicians expect more than best effort coverage in the hallways outside patients' rooms -- they expect point of care coverage at the patient's bedside, according to Festa.

"Hospitals today need to think about how they provide pervasive access where the patient is or where ever care is being delivered," he said.

Festa said that the type of traffic and applications running on mobile devices inside care settings has inherently changed as well.

"You see Vocera badges, Ascom phones, Polycom Spectralink phones, or even Cisco IP phones but increasingly we are seeing medical devices come on the wireless network now," Festa said. "These medical devices are mostly spot-check monitors that send data to EMRs once a test is done... also a lot of infusion pumps connect to the network to stay up to date. More and more we are seeing real life critical applications come online. Those include patient monitors from all the leading vendors, including a good partner of ours, Welch Allyn."

Festa said that Welch Allyn has been very agressive in the WiFi space while others like GE Healthcare and Philips have been "a little more hesitant" because of potential risks with bringing medical devices onto wireless networks. The industry's work towards wireless networking risk management of medical devices (IEC 80001-2) will go a long way to mitigate some of those risks, however.

Will hospitals ever go completely wireless?

"When you walk into almost any hospital today, you'll find a ton of wireless devices," Festa said. "There is no doubt about that, but if you ask hospital administrators if they will ever go completely wireless the answer is always no: 'I will still have wired devices in my critical care units and a number of other devices just aren't going to go on the wireless network,' they say."

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