Strategies for Overcoming Network Challenges in the Healthcare Sector

By Greg Davis, CEO, Bigleaf
Twitter: @BigleafNetworks

Network connectivity is a cornerstone of modern health IT infrastructure. As medical providers continue to add connected devices and digital tools to their environment, fast and reliable networks are needed for them to access information quickly so they can spend more time with patients.

Connected medical gadgets now go beyond the usual smartphones or tablets clinicians use in an EHR system – these include IoT (Internet of Things) devices, as well as various types of health monitors. All these components communicate constantly with the network and require consistent connectivity for proper functioning.

Unfortunately, poor connection quality remains a major issue in healthcare settings: 45 percent of initial connections fail, and loading applications takes up two extra seconds on average due to slow speed or downtime disruptions. These are both enough for users to get frustrated and abandon tasks altogether.

Therefore, it is essential that provider organizations understand what might interfere with network signals and how such issues can be avoided.

Why Network Connectivity Is So Important in Healthcare

So, why exactly is network connectivity so important in the healthcare setting? Today, clinicians rely on numerous devices every day to collect the right information, input orders for patient care, and track the care their patients receive. Doctors and nurses might also need this information to make changes regarding patient care plans.

In addition, patients rely on network connectivity to collect information themselves. While patients will certainly use the internet to upload information from their connected devices, they will also use the internet to learn how to navigate their stay in the hospital, check lab results, and even figure out what portions of the hospital are open.

All of this critical information has to travel over the network. Regardless of whether someone is using a wired or wireless connection, ensuring network uptime is critical, both for providers and patients.

Challenges Facing Network Connectivity in the Hospital Setting

There are a number of significant challenges that network connectivity has to overcome in the medical field. They include:

  • Outdated Infrastructure: There is a litany of unique regulations that the healthcare field has to overcome, and it can be difficult for hospitals to get approval to upgrade their infrastructure.
  • Demand: Hospitals are enormous buildings with thousands of people accessing the internet at any given time, and this demand on the network can make it difficult for people to use the internet quickly or prioritize critical internet traffic.
  • Physical Barriers: Medical facilities are often home to unique pieces of equipment, such as radiation machines and MRI machines, which can emit signals that can interfere with network connectivity.

These are just a few of the unique network connectivity issues that those in the healthcare setting might face.

Overcoming and Circumventing These Obstacles

Even though these challenges can be significant, there are ways for those in the medical field to overcome them. First, it is important to be proactive, not reactive. Too often, medical facilities wait for something to go down before addressing the issue. Instead, organizations need to increase their visibility so they have information from each individual portion of the network.

One of the ways to get started is to conduct a network assessment. That way, organizations understand what devices are being used, what operating systems they implement, which wireless vendors they are working with, and statistics regarding their Wireless and mobile usage.

It might also be helpful for specific provider groups to broadcast wireless signals on different frequencies to prevent conflict. Two of the most popular options include 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, but LTE and AM frequencies are also available.

Finally, it is crucial to reach out to a professional who can help medical facilities plan appropriately and navigate this complicated sector. The sooner medical centers and hospital facilities address these connectivity issues, the faster they can provide their providers and patients with the tools and equipment they need to administer and receive appropriate care.