West Wireless announces open infrastructure framework for hospitals

As the fast changing world of wireless infrastructure collides with advancements in mHealth--from electronic health records and ingestible monitoring devices to video consultations and 3D imaging--a new coalition is stepping in to help hospital CIOs better navigate necessary infrastructure upgrades.

The West Wireless Health Institute--whose mission it is to lower healthcare costs through technology and innovation--announced this week a wireless open framework that enables healthcare delivery organizations to implement and utilize a wireless infrastructure much like they would a common grade utility. The West Wireless Council, which developed the framework in conjunction with other hospital groups, wants to make it as easy to implement and utilize a wireless infrastructure as it is to use electricity, plumbing, heating or air conditioning.

The problem now is that that there is no standard approach to installing wireless infrastructure in healthcare settings. This results in a lack of bandwidth and spotty coverage that makes it "almost impossible" for a physician's iPad, a patient's smartphone and a wireless infusion pump to work simultaneously, according to WWHI. It also makes it nearly impossible to provide a level of assurance required in a medical setting-particularly as more healthcare mobile devices become certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which requires a higher level of wireless security and availability.

To address infrastructure (and other) challenges, the West Wireless Health Institute formed the West Wireless Health Council that includes members from healthcare organizations from across the country. The council's first task was to release the wireless framework.

The not-for-profit council said the framework was developed with participation from six other hospitals and health systems, according to an iHealthBeat article. The framework has been successfully deployed in six hospitals and healthcare systems represented on the council.

The framework takes into consideration that inside each hospital there will essentially be three grades of wireless service: Consumer grade, which patients will be able to use; enterprise grade, or the wireless capacity hospitals need to operate; and medical grade, which facilitates the use of FDA-regulated devices.

What's important about medical grade wireless service, a council spokesperson told FierceHealthIT, is that medical devices use a wireless transport that is under FDA jurisdiction. Because of this, hospitals can't afford variability with medical data. The architecture, in turn, is intended to allow the three classes of wireless service to co-exist in a hospital.

In addition to the three grades of wireless service, the architecture takes into account four different types of wireless platforms that enable services: Wireless WAN (wide area network) that would be used by--for example--first responders; wireless LAN (local area network) that is designed to work in a local area such as a hospital floor or around a body; wireless clinical data network that is used for the dissemination of information from medical grade, FDA-regulated devices; and Location LAN, which provides the ability to track and locate assets.

The council's architecture takes the three grades of service, combined with the four wireless platforms, and provides essentially a matrix to help hospitals either upgrade or build their wireless infrastructure, in conjunction with service providers.

What differentiates consumer from enterprise and medical grade service are five areas of assurance: coverage, or signal availability; signal quality; capacity; security; and certainty - or making sure that a network is secure and available for medical grade service.

The Federal Communications Commission, the council spokesperson said, has allocated very little spectrum for healthcare. Part of the council's mission is to be a strong advocate to make sure that hospitals can exploit medical grade service. The group said it also seeks to address additional goals, including:

  • Wireless regulatory improvement and leadership;
  • Interoperability, data analytics and medical device assurance; and
  • Hospital infrastructure implementation

In its top 10 Health IT predictions for 2012, IDC Health Insights anticipated that technological advances and the use of mobile devices in healthcare will drive the need for highly secure infrastructure. However a secure--and reliable--infrastructure represents a challenge for hospital IT organizations that, in the current economy, are often charged with providing more services with less resources.

Bridgewave Communications, which develops a suite of high capacity wireless gigabit Ethernet solutions designed to be a lower cost alternative to fiber-based infrastructures, released its findings this week on the top three considerations for healthcare IT managers as they implement network infrastructure improvements: all digital healthcare; anytime, anywhere mobile access; and patient privacy and security.

To learn more:
- here's the WWHI announcement
- read the iHealthBeat piece