Deploying a WLAN is complicated in itself. Deploying it in a healthcare environment with its many regulations and security mandates is even more complicated. Ty Bindrup, Intermountain Healthcare's Enterprise Network Planner, explains how his organization accomplished this daunting task.
Healthcare is one of the most complex vertical environments. Caregivers are highly mobile, job duties are time-critical and impact people's lives, and regulations abound to ensure patient safety and security. To address these business-impacting challenges, hospitals are increasingly turning to information technology and, more specifically, WLANs (Wireless LANs).
Intermountain Healthcare is a prime example of a large healthcare facility that has integrated wireless technology as part of its core business. Our organization supports 150 healthcare facilities, including 26 hospitals in Utah and one hospital in Idaho. We have been named the nation's top integrated healthcare system for the fifth time in the last six years by Modern Healthcare magazine
, a health information company.
Delivering Superior Care
Our primary objective for deploying a pervasive WLAN network was to deliver superior care to our patients via patient monitoring and patient information. Additionally, we wanted to leverage our investment in WLAN to track medical equipment such as infusion pumps to ensure accurate delivery of patient medication.
To ensure a successful deployment, Intermountain Healthcare defined requirements around three key components: Network, Devices and Applications. These three components enabled us to deliver mobile solutions that met our end-users' needs and business goals. In our opinion, these solution components are equally relevant to other organizations - irrespective of their industry - that are looking to leverage WLAN to improve business processes. Let's take a closer look at each component involved.
Component No. 1: The Network
A reliable wireless network is mission-critical to healthcare and serves as a platform to mobilize solutions. Three questions to think about while defining network requirements are:
1. Do you need an integrated wired and wireless network?
2. Should the network be open to support a range of devices and applications?
3. What is the IT support required to deploy and manage the network to ensure security and regulatory compliance?
Intermountain Healthcare addressed the questions above by selecting a solution that offered centralized management services. Given that we had a large number of wireless end-points, including client devices and medical equipment that needed monitoring, it was essential for us to deploy a network that could be easily managed and upgraded from one central point.
Component No. 2: The Applications
Deployed correctly, WLAN networks can mobilize medical and administrative applications. Because of this, they can significantly transform business processes, thereby improving caregiver efficiency and productivity. To optimize the mobilization of healthcare applications, organizations must understand their employees' work environments and needs. They must then prioritize solutions that improve employees' efficiency and retention, and also offer the best return on investment. Some questions to consider here are:
1. What are the specific business processes you want to mobilize?
2. Can the applications support QoS over mobile devices?
3. What is the end-user experience to ensure maximum adoption?
As patient monitoring and patient information was a key goal for Intermountain Healthcare, our healthcare clinical technology team worked closely with the IT department to identify the key clinical applications that would be mobilized. Some examples of the applications our wireless network supports are voice service over Wi-Fi for caregivers, access to patient information, real-time monitoring of patient vitals, infusion pump library updates, prescription services, point-of-sale transactions, tracking of Wi-Fi devices to monitor access to patient records, and real-time inventory management of medical equipment.
Component No. 3: The Devices
With the plethora of business devices available today, it is critical to select devices that best meet caregivers' needs. When choosing or recommending devices, you must consider the following:
1. How and where will the caregivers use the devices? For example, will physicians prefer dual-mode devices whereas nurses just Wi-Fi only devices?
2. What are IT's requirements around device management and support?
3. What device features do you want to provide to employees?
As is typical of most hospital environments, Intermountain Healthcare allows our employees to use a mix of devices. Depending on our employees' job functions and requirements, we leverage our WLAN for advanced services such as Voice over Wi-Fi to improve employee collaboration and patient response time.
Partner with a Reliable Vendor
In addition to the criteria mentioned above, you need to also ensure that your vendor understands your specific business needs. They must be willing to partner with you through the deployment process. Some additional factors to consider here are:
1. Does the vendor enjoy a good reputation in the industry?
2. Has the solution been tested and validated by someone other than the vendor and deployed at other customer sites?
3. Does the vendor have the right partnerships to deliver an end-to-end solution that best meets your specific needs?
Deploying a pervasive WLAN network that will meet your business goals may be somewhat challenging. However, it is not impossible. You need to define a mobility strategy, clearly articulate business objectives, and evaluate solutions based on network, device and application requirements. If you can build a relationship based on trust and partnership with your vendor, your WLAN deployment will not only be successful, but will end up being an integral part of your business.
Ty Bindrup is the Enterprise Network Planner for Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is responsible for the design and development of wireless solutions for the entire organization. He handles project management, architect and troubleshooting throughout the enterprise network life-cycle, as well as profile and resolve network application performance. Prior to Intermountain, Ty served in numerous IT consultant roles for companies such as Lucent, Central Design Systems and Applied Information Services. He can be reached at email@example.com.