News Feature | May 30, 2014

Hospital Wi-Fi Needs Upgrading (Again)

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Hospital Wi-Fi

As the technology environment in hospitals gets more complex, Wi-Fi leads the way. Network architects are under increasing pressure, not only to keep networks adapted to advances in mobile devices, but also keep them secure and in compliance with an ever-changing regulatory environment.

Upgrading: A Non-Option

The numbers around wireless use make it obvious that Wi-Fi in hospitals is no longer an option. For example, at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health Systems:

  • Wireless clients now outnumber wired.
  • They support over 4,400 access points.
  • They handle over 12,000 users per day.
  • They host over 5,000 guest users per day.
  • They’ve had 100 percent client growth year over year for the last seven years.

Keeping a network up-to-date though, is never an option. According to a Ponemon Institute Study, it’s estimated that hospitals absorb $8.3 billion annually due to the use of old technology. Clinicians were found to waste an average of over 45 minutes each day because of outdated communications tech. Lack of Wi-Fi availability when accessing patient records was cited by 39 percent of the clinician respondents as a primary reason for lost time. That adds up to an average cost of $1 million dollars per hospital per year, or $5.1 billion annually.

Security: A Double-Edged Sword

One of the primary issues around network upgrades is security. It is both a catalyst to and a challenge around infrastructure changes.

Earlier this year, Torrance Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles County announced that it was improving its wireless internet structure for its 900 staff physicians, volunteers and 23,000 annual patient visitors. One of the biggest challenges that the network staff has been met with is the wide variety of devices used to access the network. While wired devices can be somewhat controlled, there is simply no way to predict what type of mobile devices will be accessing, or attempting to access a hospital’s network — or what vulnerabilities they’ll bring with them. According to Todd Felker, Infrastructure and Security Architect at the facility:

“There are a lot of medical devices that have vulnerabilities. There are sites that have posted different vulnerabilities for each type of device, including medical devices so security is becoming increasingly important from a network perspective. There are threats such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) as well as hackers trying to do a scan to try to take advantage of a vulnerability on a device.”

Felker, in response, has partnered with a security incident and event manager, to which he sends network logs.

Solutions: A Plan Of Action

With all those challenges, there are, according to Ali Youssef, senior clinical mobile solutions architect at Henry Ford Health Systems, a few guidelines network architects can use to stay on top of their networks. They include:

  • planning a high level of system redundancy
  • conducting proper site surveys 
  • continuously working to keep tabs on the kinds of devices that are going to be used on the network
  • testing those devices to see how they behave

One of Youssef’s most interesting points though, was stressing the importance of the solutions provider’s relationship with clinicians to maintaining adequate bandwidth. Solutions providers can capitalize on their access to direct contact with clinicians as an informational resource in determining architectural goals.

For solutions providers interested in key elements around upgrading hospital Wi-Fi, Fierce Mobile Healthcare offers additional solutions.