Bandwidth issues plaguing hospital wireless networks

Hospital wireless networks need a major overhaul. That's the most intriguing point from a report about mobile hardware published in Healthcare Informatics. The big problem: A myriad of users are piling onto already overburdened hospital networks--physicians, nurses, patients, visitors, non-clinical staff, and more. Hospital CIOs tell Healthcare Informatics that they are feeling the strain not only on their bandwidth, but also on their ability to keep different users from dipping into data pools for which they aren't authorized.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CIO Jim Venturella has taken an innovative approach in the short-term, actually carving up his system's bandwidth and creating one network for patients, another for clinicians, and possibly another for physicians' personal wireless devices.

"People have become far more reliant on these devices, and what you built five or six years ago doesn't necessarily have the right coverage or strength to support the number of devices you have tying in now," he tells Healthcare Informatics.

It's unclear if this kind of sandboxing ultimately will solve the problem of the myriad users running around your Wi-Fi, but it certainly could give you some room to breathe while you find a more permanent solution.

A few other highlights from the report:

1. Docs like tablets, but won't give up their laptops/PCs just yet: UPMC has tested a host of tablet options with its medical staff, but none have stuck, Venturella says. They like the tablet for sharing information with patients, or doing quick lookups on medical data, but it can't yet compare to an in-room monitor to view images, or a laptop/PC for actual documentation.

2. Nurses won't be your first adopters for smartphones or tablets: Clinicians prefer to do their charting outside of the patient's room, which might indicate a preference for tablets or other mobile devices. But the lack of keyboard or other easy-input hardware probably means they'll stick with carts-on-wheels or other less mobile options.

Tablets also won't wow nurses until they're fully integrated into their workflow, according to Chuck Podesta, CIO of Burlington, Vt.-based Fletcher Allen Health Care. He predicts carts will be the tool of choice for nurses for some time to come. "People need to study workflow before they say we'll just have a bunch of iPads at nursing stations that they can just grab and run. Eventually we will get there, but we are not there yet," Podesta tells Healthcare Informatics.

3. Vetting hardware may be a full-time job: In fact, Podesta created a position called an "enterprise architect" for just this purpose. The EA spends all his time reviewing technology trends and testing out new products to see if they'll integrate well with the hospital's network and other systems, Healthcare Informatics reports.

To learn more:
- read the Healthcare Informatics story