The healthcare sector is undergoing a remarkable change. Whereas the quality of treatment used to be the sole consideration for patients choosing a hospital or clinic, today other criteria have also come to play a role—primarily the presence of wireless Internet access. More and more hospitals and healthcare facilities are hoping to attract patients by advertising their hotspot offerings. Patients expect more than treatment alone. These days they see themselves as customers, they compare the healthcare offerings, and they choose the one of greatest benefit to them.
Along with this newfound identity among patients, there are further factors driving the new demands placed on healthcare infrastructures. “Medicine 4.0” refers to the progress towards digitalization and the process optimization that goes hand-in-hand with it. The focus is on the increasing amount of networking between patients and healthcare staff, along with the growth in (wireless) communication between medical devices. A vital basis for these is a future-proof and professional wireless LAN infrastructure.
A key aspect when patients choose a hospital today is not only the reviews by other patients, but also the entertainment on offer. “Merely” receiving good treatment is no longer the sole issue—the stay in the clinic should be as pleasant as possible too, just like at home or in a nice hotel room.
Modern hospitals are attracting patients with a wide range of electronic leisure activities at the bedside, including IP-TV, free phone calls, and fast Wi-Fi. The offerings vary from clinic to clinic. Some providers offer all-round entertainment systems controlled by terminals attached directly to the bed. Other clinics rely on integrating the patients’ own private devices into the Wi-Fi system (bring-your-own-device).
Internal process optimization
Apart from the entertainment offerings, the full potential of Wi-Fi is only realized once the internal processes have been digitalized. An increasingly important aspect is the monitoring of patient vital signs by mobile devices that are connected to the hospital network. This simplifies the internal exchange of data and the recording of health-related patient data. The underlying Wi-Fi infrastructure must be highly reliable for this purpose because, occasionally, every second counts.
Another application of modern wireless technology is the use of Wi-Fi telephony handsets (Voice over WLAN or VoWLAN) for the staff. The advantage is that other wireless networks, such as DECT or GSM, are not required and the 2.4- and the 5-GHz bands can both be used. Compared to other wireless technologies, no further expensive infrastructure or additional equipment is necessary—the result being substantial cost savings. What’s more, VoWLAN provides full coverage telephony with excellent reception and voice quality, and a seamless handover.
Wi-Fi also has significant advantages when it comes to the localization of persons or objects. RTLS systems (real-time location-based services) use Wi-Fi tags as an easy way to find persons or to localize objects.
In the first example, nursing facilities may need to locate missing patients and this is done by means of a transmitter that they carry or wear. Movement patterns could give the physicians and nurses useful information about changes in the patient’s health state. Other applications become feasible, such as navigation, location-based messaging, or the integration of services into the other clinical systems.
Wireless data transmission
Wi-Fi also plays a crucial role in digital image diagnosis. Data is transferred from and to anywhere in the clinic, lightning fast. Doctors benefit from faster access to patient information from any location.
The same is true for the mobilisation of diagnostic equipment. What are currently static devices can be integrated into the hospital network via Wi-Fi, so that they become mobile and there is no need to purchase multiple devices. When required, the equipment is simply pushed from one ward to the other.
Another key aspect of optimizing hospital processes is the electronic health record (EHR), which digitally stores all health-related data and can be shared by doctors. By means of Wi-Fi-enabled tablets, the data is fully available at any location—from the patient rooms and treatment rooms, and even in the operating theatre.
Due to these many benefits, clinics have started to adopt digital technology in the form of mobile devices with stylus input or touch screens, and they are now taking full advantage of the digitalization in patient admission, diagnosis and treatment. Paper is no longer necessary and all patient information is stored and managed centrally, which improves efficiency in the administration.
A fairly new technology that has recently entered the healthcare market is Wireless ePaper. These power-saving digital displays may be integrated into the existing network and do not require a fixed power connection. Hospitals and care units using Wireless ePaper displays benefit from new, highly effective, accurate ways to automatically display and update information on rooms as well as on mobile equipment.
A secure basis
Networking in medicine and healthcare makes special demands of security and privacy. The basis for this is a stable, trusted and secure state-of-the-art network infrastructure. It’s not enough to secure individual components or areas against attacks or to encrypt conversations: You really need to take a holistic approach, and this starts in the planning phase.
While conventional network security relies on mechanisms like authentication, encryption and virtualization, the way to stable and interference-free operation is outlined by specialized standards.
This is where professional equipment that is tested and certified specifically with regard to stability guarantees a maximum of operational reliability. A good indicator of this is the Dräger validation, which is carried out for Wi-Fi-based solutions that involve the transmission of vital signs. Further examples are the critical ASCOM certification for high-quality Voice-over-WLAN (VoWLAN) transmission as well as the certified support of RTLS capabilities of Airistaflow (formerly Ekahau).
Equally important is the equipment’s electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). Only Wi-Fi devices that comply with the EN 60601-1-2 standard for operation in medical environments are assured of interference-free interaction with other existing apparatus, systems and equipment.
Careful consideration of these aspects during the planning phase is the best way to ensure the secure, stable and interference-free operation of a modern network in healthcare. And nurses, doctors and, above all, the patients can continue to enjoy a sound sleep.