Hospital networks take key role in health care as IT makes further clincial advances

Hospital CIOs stress the need for constant wireless connectivity, but wired networks also have a role in health IT

By , IDG News Service |  Networking

"Hospitals are going to have to make tremendous investments in infrastructure," he said, as they overhaul dated buildings that were "never built for a robust N-class wireless network. Reliability comes into play if you tell me the only place I can get lab results and tests is a computer."

Even the slightest network delays can turn physicians against health IT and ultimately hinder their ability to practice medicine, Kowitt said.

"If it takes five seconds to get a reply they're not going to like the wait," he said. "And those five seconds accumulate and its going to impact their productivity."

At Eastern Maine Healthcare, clinical and hospital staff associate wireless mobility with productivity. Last year Bruno noted an uptick in the number of employees who brought their personal tablets to the organization's facilities, which span across Maine.

Nearly all the doctors and executives in her organization purchased iPads and use them for tasks such as taking notes and checking email, she said.

The influx of wireless devices means "you need that connectivity so you're going to see more and more robust wireless networks."

Connectivity looks only more important to health care as hospitals adopt cloud computing and health IT software vendors develop mobile applications for specific care functions.

Morris questions whether hospitals will install their software on every personal mobile device as well as service a diverse hardware array. They may outsource these tasks to the cloud to avoid "a maintenance nightmare," he said.

"Are you going to install clients on iPads? Really? More people will leverage Web-based solutions," he said.

Bruno predicts that more physicians will adopt mobile computing as Cerner, a major health IT vendor whose EMR system her organization uses, improves its mobile app offerings.

Cerner is working on a mobile app for ambulatory settings but "they don't really have it for the inpatient setting," Bruno said. Some doctors at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor are using Cerner's health IT software via a virtual desktop, but since that software was written for use with a keyboard and large monitor "it's just not elegant yet" for mobile devices. That elegance will come with a dedicated mobile app, she added.

While the place of mobile hardware and software in patient care is still being figured out, health IT doesn't lack wireless devices in the meantime. Clinical staff depend on wireless medical devices "that will ID a patient, transmit securely and not lose continuity," said Morris. "Nurses taking vital signs want to put on a blood pressure cuff, hit start and have it wirelessly transmit to the patient record."

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