The surge in delivering Healthcare services digitally is by definition, accelerating the demand for robust Wireless Networks and Smart Infrastructure Technology. Since 2019, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration in clinical staff’s utilisation of mobile devices (tablets, handheld devices etc) through a variety of sectors – namely in GP Practices, Care Homes and Hospital environments. Of course, whilst the demand continues to increase, delivery should ensure multiple key elements are considered effectively.
In this blog we’ll run-through some of the main considerations when reviewing a WLAN/Wireless network deployment in healthcare facilities – weighed up with the common problems experienced in such environments. It goes without saying that Wireless Infrastructure (WLAN) deployments in most, if not all, healthcare environments are of critical importance – and will ultimately serve as the basis for staff to carry out critical day-to-day tasks using a variety of pieces of technology. With this in mind, in-depth consideration to planning and deployment should be given, ensuring the system’s Operational, Functional and Security elements are fulfilled.
An all-too common issue we come across at problematic healthcare sites is that incremental changes have been implemented to the network over time – this can actually be more of a hinderance than improvement. As we’ll mention, ensuring the infrastructure is operated from a central ‘host’, ensures confluence is achieved on the network, reducing the probability of problems arising.
Consideration to the type of devices using the network, their use etc have always been an important consideration. Smart Televisions will now operate on the WLAN, even Coffee machines – this makes planning and ensuring all devices required on the wireless network are catered for. Further to this, having multiple platforms and peripherals of which the LAN/WLAN operates from can cause problems – we see this commonly, and can result in conflicts on the network, and delays in the troubleshooting process.
The placement of Access Points throughout a large site is paramount to ensuring wide-spread coverage at optimal levels of speed & performance, however there are multiple ways of mitigating problems by ‘splitting’ the network. For example, the installation of Cat 6/Cat 6a outlets throughout the premises can increase reliance on the LAN network, taking strain from the WLAN (office computers, laptops etc).
Placement & Coverage
The placement of Access Points is key to ensuring all intended users can achieve strong performance and consistency wherever they are situated in the building. Healthcare environments tend to involve slightly different planning for WLAN to your average office, for example. Staff tend to be ‘on the move’, roaming the building whilst still requiring consistent access to the internet. In order to ensure consistent and high performance connections are achieved equally, measures such as Data Outlets can be installed where staff have fixed devices (desktop/laptop computers) – this can ultimately reduce the ‘strain’ on the overall network itself.
Full-Building WiFi Survey
Planning for Performance
As with any WLAN deployment, planning is essential. An on-site survey of the building itself, taking into account a variety structural and architectural factors with the outcome/use case in mind is key to a well-performing network with longevity. Not only is the performance of the WLAN tested at this stage, but the deployment plan itself – structured cabling, server/cabinet locations and more need to be decided at the beginning of the process in order to ensure each section flows efficiently when the deployment commences. Our surveys also include structural cabling reports, of which we ultimately liaise with the customer on.
Smart Building Use Cases
Building a Robust & Versatile WiFi/WLAN Network
The critical nature of the tasks & processes carried out over WiFi in healthcare environments makes security paramount. With the wide span of devices now used in such environments, there are a lot more areas to cover. Web Filters, Segmenting and other such measures can help mitigate such risks.
What devices are using the network? Desktop PC’s, commercial tablet/handheld devices, will you allow BYOD for personal use?
Ensuring critical devices have a reliable and consistent connection. If devices in the environment are all connecting to one singular network, serious problems can occur as a result of the imbalance. For example, patients streaming Netflix on the same network nursing staff are trying to input/receive critical data could have serious consequences.
What devices are using the network? Desktop PC’s, commercial tablet/handheld devices, will you allow BYOD for personal use? Ensuring systems are confluent from the ground up is key to mitigating issues on the network. By this, we mean ensuring the devices in-use in the environment are compatible with the equipment & infrastructure hosting the network.
Further to our points above on Configuration, there are more direct measures that can be taken. ‘RBAC’ (Role Based Access Control) is a tool we often use, whereby critical device’s connections can be prioritised on the network, as well as enhanced security on the connection between the device and the WiFi/WLAN.
Where are you looking to deploy your Wireless network? In new-builds, generally structured cabling and network outlets are installed as part of the development process, not afterward. If you’re replacing existing AP’s, or installing in a building without much structured cabling/network backbone, Structured Cabling will need to be taken into account.
What other measures are taken to ensure maximum Up-Time and Stability?
Emergency Power Backup
On most customer’s sites involved in critical activities, such as Care Homes, Private Hospitals, GP Practices and more, we’ll install an emergency back-up source of power for all systems. In doing so, in the event of a power-outage, the site’s full Phone, WiFi & IT Systems can continue to operate during this critical period, with no downtime.
Full-Building Power Continues
Downtime isn’t something we like at Ayo, nor would we wish to allow it for our customers. As soon as ‘mains’ power is not recognised, our systems automatically switch to industrial-grade battery power systems. In this scenario, our backup power systems are not linked with ‘mains’ power in the building – given most of our networking systems run on ‘PoE’ or Power over Ethernet, the main ‘Switch Box’ in the network cabinet powering all equipment and peripherals switches over to a backup power system, which in turn serves all connected devices via the network cable connecting them (generally Cat 6/Cat 6a).
Okay so it’s powered, what about connectivity?
So, we’ve covered the details on power outages and downtime in that sense – how does the connectivity (internet, phone lines) continue if the incoming lines are affected also? Given network provider cabinets in the street (the dark green ones) also run on ‘mains’ power, the problem isn’t fully-solved with backup power sources on-site, as these lines also generally fail in the result of a power outage. As part of our emergency backup system packages, we’ll also install a 4G/5G medium in the network cabinet, which also takes-over all systems seamlessly in the event the incoming lines are down.