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5 tips for problem-free Wi-Fi in health care

par Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | October 14, 2013
Kelly Davis-Felner
Wi-Fi is more ubiquitous than ever, but we've all experienced a dropped connection or have wondered about a network's security. Those common problems are even more important in hospitals, where Wi-Fi powers not just iPhones but also infusion pumps and patient monitoring devices.

Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing and program management director for the Wi-Fi Alliance, shared her top tips on how hospitals can secure their connections and keep vital devices running.

For a more detailed list, check out the Wi-Fi Alliance's white paper on wireless in health care.

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1. Plan, test, re-plan. First, Davis-Felner recommends taking a close look at your physical environment before installing or expanding Wi-Fi. "I'm literally talking about what are your walls made of, what your floors are made of, what equipment is in front of that wall," she said. "Hospitals tend to have a very wide variety of building materials and configurations, and they typically have expansions built on to them and things like that when you have a variety of building materials." After the site survey, perform plenty of tests to make sure the connection will actually satisfy data transfer needs. "You don't want an empty spot in your network," she said.

2. Use Wi-Fi certified equipment. The Wi-Fi Alliance validates which products are interoperable with the widest set of vendors. "Hospitals have equipment from many different providers, and especially with the guest overlay of people coming in and joining the network, you want to have a system that delivers a good experience," Davis-Felner said.

3. Know that change is inevitable. Be ready to adjust your set-up as your hospital goes through renovations or brings in new equipment. "All of that may impact network performance. It's an ongoing monitor and adjust situation," Davis-Felner said. She notes that it's especially important for smaller hospitals without a dedicated Wi-Fi team to stay on top of needed adjustments.

4. Get the newest technology you possibly can. The newest Wi-Fi release is called Wi-Fi AC, which works in the 5 gigahertz frequency. The previous Wi-Fi iteration, Wi-Fi N, works in 2.4. "Because Wi-Fi technology is always moving forward, you want to get the most capable devices out there because no large department wants to replace equipment frequently or right after deploying it," said Davis-Felner. Though there isn't a set-in-stone rule, Davis-Felner recommends updating a Wi-Fi system every three to four years to keep up with technology.

5. But only upgrade when you're ready. "The nice thing about Wi-Fi is it's not like you have to yank the whole thing out and start over again," said Davis-Felner. "You can have a network of mixed legacies, with some elements of the network that are new, and some portions of the building that are using older equipment."
(1)

Chris Downey

802.11n

October 14, 2013 05:41

Good article and the WFA White Paper is definitely worth a read. One clarification, 802.11n works in both 2.4GHz and 5Ghz. Staying up with the newest technology is great, but you should also consider the use cases for medical devices in hospitals. The increased spectrum available in 5Ghz means all medical devices should be set to operate in those frequencies to avoid the overcrowding in 2.4Ghz. 802.11a, 802.11n and 802.11ac all work in the 5Ghz spectrum and any are good choices for medical devices, depending on the type of traffic being sent and the use case.

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Loren Bonner

Re: 802.11n

October 17, 2013 08:45

Thanks for your comment and clarification, Chris.

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