Today, in general, healthcare facilities are mobile environments that depend on wireless networks. Providers need to be able to connect to the network from any location as they use the WiFi to communicate with each other, review patient files, and monitor health readings from IoT patient monitoring devices. The wireless network has now become the backbone supporting patient care in every department and at all levels, which is why it is crucial to have an optimized network at all times. This includes in the present, of course, but it also means managing the network with an eye on the future.
Why focus on the future? Because facilities don’t want to be caught unaware and behind-the-times. Wireless technology is constantly evolving and new technologies are always entering the market. Additionally, the wireless network itself is a dynamic ecosystem that changes throughout the day and night. There is nothing static about WiFi, and it’s likely that every industry is only going to grow more reliant on the technology. It’s important to design the network so that it is future-proof and easily able to adapt to whatever comes its way—whether that’s changing WiFi technology, new medical IoT devices, or even building renovations.
What Affects Wireless Network Performance?
The short answer is: A lot. A non-exhaustive list includes:
- Devices that are nearing the end of their life and need to be replaced
- Building materials such as concrete that are harder for a wireless signal to pass through
- Nearby networks operating in the same airspace
- Non-WiFi devices like microwaves
- Software updates
- The number of devices on a network
As devices connect and disconnect throughout the day, the network changes. If the way the network is utilized changes—for example, if telehealth and video streaming are used more frequently—the network changes. If a new wing is added to a hospital, or if a new company takes over the office space next to a small clinic, the network can change.
In order to future-proof a network, a healthcare facility must be prepared to monitor and manage a change in any one of these areas, so that the best decisions possible can be made for future usage and design.
There are network management platforms that will help manage network infrastructure. For example, these platforms will help IT professionals set up switches and access points (APs), and will provide visibility into performance so that IT can determine if there is an infrastructure problem, such as an AP malfunctioning. However, identifying and troubleshooting complex issues outside of the infrastructure is not within the typical management platform’s capabilities. In these instances, IT teams must turn to manual troubleshooting.
The more complex an issue is, the more time consuming this manual process becomes. First, as seen above, an issue has many possible root causes. IT cannot begin resolution until the root cause is identified. This requires personnel to be onsite with their laptops or tablets at the exact location where the network problem occurred. This can mean that IT has to set up in a busy hallway, at the nurses’ station, or even in a patient’s room. Once set up, IT must wait for the issue to occur so that they can capture the data at that moment, analyze it and identify the root cause, and then implement a solution. Since many problems are intermittent, IT might have to spend all day, or longer, waiting for the issue to occur. This is obviously not ideal.
Without automatic, complete visibility into the entire network ecosystem however, this is the avenue open to healthcare IT teams. A network that isn’t future-proofed and proactively monitored and optimized can only expect more frequent issues with long Mean-Time-to-Resolutions (MTTR). This is only compounded by a lack of remote support.
Remote Monitoring and Support
There are going to be times when no one from IT can provide in-person troubleshooting and support. This might be because one IT team is responsible for multiple locations and must rotate through facilities; or perhaps an issue happens outside of normal business hours; or possibly severe weather conditions might prevent travel. Whatever the cause, without remote support, the effect is a network issue that can’t be resolved in a timely manner, which can have serious repercussions for patient health.
To resolve this problem, the best way to future-proof a network is to provide remote monitoring and support.
With remote monitoring, IT professionals can:
- Review network analytics in real-time from any location
- Identify the root cause of issues before arriving onsite
- Walk onsite support through troubleshooting, if necessary, thanks to complete visibility into the network
- Keep track of multiple facilities from one location
With remote support, IT can:
- Troubleshoot and resolve issues from any location
- Run network tests from anywhere to proactively identify trouble spots
By removing travel time from the equation, the MTTR decreases. With IT able to identify and resolve issues from any location at any time, healthcare facilities never have to worry about weather or road conditions impacting IT’s ability to optimize the network.
The best way to support the critical wireless network and manage its fast-paced, never-ending changes is with WiFi automation. These platforms provide cost-effective ways to prepare networks for the future and alleviate the burdens discussed in this article. The second part of this series will discuss how automation and artificial intelligence support healthcare networks, and what to look for in an automation platform.