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

When Eastern Maine Healthcare rolled out upgraded clinical carts last fall its wireless coverage became "particularly important," said Bruno. These devices feature all-in-one PCs mounted to carts and are mostly used by nurses for bedside medicine verification. Nurses use barcode readers to scan barcodes on a patient's wrist band and medication to verify the person's identity, the drug, the dose and the dispensation time. This information is automatically added to a patient's chart, which ends up in the EMR.

"We do regular analysis of the coverage of our wireless network, particularly for the use of the clinical cart," said Bruno.

Eastern Maine Healthcare administration and physicians aren't the only ones who need Wi-Fi.

"More and more people are bringing wireless mobile devices to the facility and they want to get onto our wireless network," Bruno said.

To address demand, three years ago Bruno opened the wireless network to visitors by creating a guest network and placing a firewall between that network and the one used for clinical purposes.

As guest mobile device use continued to expand, the hospital moved that traffic to the older 802.11a wireless band, which is also used by the clinical carts.

"We've segregated the carts from the regular wireless network band and that is helping because that's the only traffic on that band," she said.

Even with the clamor for wireless access, wired networks have a place in health IT. In rural locations with limited telecommunication options, WANs (wide area networks) help establish backup connectivity between hospitals and data centers, Bruno said.

"One of the challenges in Maine is that the connectivity between where some of our servers reside and our remote hospitals might be only one set of telephone poles," she said.

The organization has redundant connectivity between its Bangor, Maine, data center and the Kansas City data center that hosts its EMRs. It uses a fiber network to link its Bangor facilities, which include two hospitals, a cancer treatment center, a walk-in clinic and the data center. For its more remote hospitals, "some places you can get redundant connectivity and some you can't yet."

To address these connectivity concerns, Eastern Maine Healthcare is working with the New England Telehealth Consortium to build out the WAN infrastructure that will link its data center and satellite locations. This effort will give the organization "redundant lines to places where we don't have it," Bruno said.

At some hospitals wired networks handle radiology images since the files' size can strain a wireless network, said Kowitt. Network traffic management then becomes a possibility since physicians would place a priority on those images over less critical data, he added.

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