Community HealthCare System in Onaga, Kan., is in the midst of a complete network infrastructure upgrade to create a more seamless experience.

May 06 2019

Robust Wireless Deployments Help Healthcare Organizations to Connect More

Providers are building networks to meet requirements for today, tomorrow and beyond.

It’s a common conundrum for healthcare organizations: How do you build a wireless network that is simple to manage but robust enough to handle the growing and increasingly complex demands put on it?

For Dominic Freeman, network manager at Community HealthCare System in Onaga, Kan., the answer was to double down on the parts of an existing wireless setup that work especially well. He and his small IT team have been using Cisco Meraki access points within a multivendor network component mix for more than a decade, so as they contemplated embarking on a network upgrade across seven facilities, they decided to go all-in on Meraki.

“We felt that by standardizing on a Meraki switch and wireless infrastructure, we would get the stability, redundancy and flexibility that a small IT department like ours needs in order to get all of our many tasks done and still effectively support our healthcare mission,” Freeman says.

This year, he and his team are replacing the network’s older core switches with Meraki MS425s. They also plan to deploy Meraki switches at all of Community HealthCare System’s different facilities and plan to follow that up by putting Meraki firewalls in place.

Implementing and operating a robust, simple-to-manage wireless network in a healthcare environment is much more complicated than it would be in, say, a large retail chain, says Jennifer Covich Bordenick, CEO of eHealth Initiative. Among the challenges: the need to retrofit older buildings, high security requirements for everything from personal health information to biomedical devices, dealing with other electronic equipment like MRIs that can interfere with access points, unpredictable spikes in mobile traffic and the life-and-death nature of healthcare.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: Discover how healthcare organizations are boosting network capacity to meet IoT demand.

“If you have an issue, you can’t just shut down your wireless system,” she says. “There’s no downtime for improving your network, so it can be tough work. And that requires a lot of upfront time thinking through what you need the network to do now, as well as planning for future capabilities.”

For this reason, healthcare organizations are implementing wireless functionality in layers. They often start with a goal of ensuring strong mobility, security and connectivity for clinician and patient phones and devices, but must also make sure to invest in the kind of robust underlying wireless infrastructure that can actually cut costs, streamline workloads for both the IT department and hospital staff, provide centralized visibility and meet future demands.

An Efficiency Play for Hospitals Looking to Improve Performance

Wireless continues to be an evolving capability for healthcare organizations, but not everyone is in the same place due to difficulties with older facilities, legacy IT and budget limitations, Bordenick says. “But the wireless technology that’s available now and that is coming is just incredible. The efficiencies you’re able to gain far outweigh the challenges,” she says.

Tahoe Forest Health System in Truckee, Calif., recently switched to a mobile-first healthcare network from Aruba so that its two hospitals and six specialty clinics could take advantage of cutting-edge healthcare capabilities. This includes connecting even more wireless medical devices and patient monitoring systems, as well as enabling wayfinding and other patient and clinician applications.

Jake Dorst, the organization’s CIO and chief innovation officer, says that financial considerations drove a lot of his decision-making. A key challenge with healthcare networks is that they must be upgraded every three to five years, depending on their end-of-life date.

“It’s not like we’re making widgets here and we can squeeze out a little more time from the components,” he says. “For security and regulatory reasons, we all have to upgrade our networks right on schedule, but that does get quite expensive."

Although the new network, which was implemented earlier this year, spreads across facilities in California and Nevada, Dorst and his team have complete insight into its 260 access points and 60 switches using Aruba’s ClearPass console. In addition, the network relies on the 802.1x authentication standard for greater security, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically adjust for optimal performance.

“It’s all pretty easy to use, and we have that single pane of glass so we can manage everything from one spot and get visibility into the entire network,” Dorst says. “We are a small team, so this is going to save us time and free up resources so we can really start digging into the new features and setting up more automation, which will allow us to focus that much more of our time on other key IT areas and supporting our users.”

Source: Community HealthCare System

Once Community HealthCare System’s upgrade is complete, the organization will enjoy greater network performance and be able to take advantage of future capabilities, Freeman says. The IT team can easily create new virtual LANs to enable secure connections for medical devices and patient monitoring systems. The hospital, he explains, already has a wireless telemetry system, which includes heart monitoring, that runs on its own separate network. But Freeman and his team are already making plans to migrate that to the Meraki infrastructure as well.

“Right now, I have no insight into that heart monitoring system; we’re at the mercy of a vendor to help us with that when there’s an issue, which can be frustrating for IT, nurses and our providers,” Freeman says. “When we can bring it onto our Meraki wireless network, it will be much more seamless and our IT department will know what’s going on and be able to manage it effectively from a single dashboard, just like we can with everything else.”

Getting Ahead of Demand for Healthcare Staff

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago was also recently due for a complete refresh of both its wired and wireless networks, but Senior Vice President and CIO Lisa Dykstra decided to prioritize the wireless.

“Our users are heavily dependent on the wireless already, and we believed that our future would involve greater mobility,” she says.

After nearly 10 months of research, planning and consulting with the hospital’s nursing, facilities and infectious disease staff, she and her networking team chose a robust wireless network to meet Lurie’s security and reliability requirements, enable a new clinical communications strategy and provide for future clinician applications and patient services. Shortly after installing the new network on the main campus — including approximately 700 access points — the IT team also deployed over 900 new iPhones to clinicians.

“One of the benefits of our new wireless infrastructure is that Apple has partnered with Cisco to provide Wi-Fi optimization for iOS, Fast Lane and Wi-Fi analytics for iOS, meaning improved wireless performance is built into the corporate network and the iOS,” says Laura Bagus, vice president of IT for the hospital. “Our users get a better Wi-Fi experience on iPhones and iPad devices, including improved access to critical applications.”

Dan Videtich

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