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Importance of a Wireless Site Survey for Hospital Wireless Networks

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Importance of a Wireless Site Survey for Hospital Wireless Networks

By: Danny Mareco January 16, 2014 1 Category: Healthcare, Strategy, Design

There was a time not that long ago, when physical wireless site surveys were becoming obsolete because new software tools were making it possible to predict with about 90% accuracy a number of things about a wireless environment.

site survey

Now, with new 802.11ac technology currently available on the market and even advanced 802.11n technology, it’s important that each facility seriously consider a healthcare wireless site survey. Most healthcare organizations, even small ones, have attempted to deploy some type of wireless solution in their facility. Chances are there have been a few complaints about the experience for end users.

Some have installed more of an enterprise-level solution, though it may have been a few buying cycles back. That’s not to say that there’s anything “wrong” with the solution that was previously implemented, the organization might just need to fill in some gaps in coverage - or take a closer look at aging infrastructure.

One of the key elements of any healthcare wireless site survey is to get a full understanding of what issues are being experienced by end users, be they physicians running applications on iPads, nurses or support staff on BYOD devices or patient guests on laptops. It’s always easier to come up with a solution when you know the problem.

A key element we have found with 802.11ac access points is that just because they purport to handle much larger capacities, that doesn’t mean that you can get further away from them with wireless devices. That’s because, in order to have better battery life, manufacturers have implemented radios that are lower-powered (i.e., drink up less of the battery’s “juice”).

Engineers can now enter a healthcare environment and, without interrupting the current hospital wireless network during mission-critical hours, can run software that will actually simulate multiple wireless devices functioning with applications used daily in the facility to determine how well they are performing under different conditions in all areas through the facility.

Wireless engineers performing site surveys might also be utilizing upgraded 802.11n and 802.11ac technologies to determine how performance might increase in the environment. The benefit here is that the wireless site surveys also take into consideration everything physically existing in a healthcare environment. No two facilities are exactly alike, despite what the floor plans of the buildings might indicate.

Even though the software utilized can still bring about with around 90% accuracy the RF signal propagation throughout a facility, isn’t it best to know what exactly is going on in the environment closer to 100% accuracy?

Most healthcare facilities have a wireless network that supports one or more of the following:

  • Electronic Health/Medical Records (EHR’s/MHR’s)mobile devices in healthcare
  • Clinical Point of Care
  • Applications for Physicians
  • Clinical Point of Care for Nurse clinicians
  • Computerized Physician Order entries
  • Imaging
  • OB/GYN documentation
  • BioMedical Devices

That is to say that it’s obviously not advisable to count on a consumer-grade wireless solution to support all of the above. We have seen a number of cases where IT staffs that are limited in number, or even other service providers that are not fully trained in all functions of wireless healthcare environments attempt to install solutions that might support a few mission-critical functions, just not all of them, all the time.

Even at a multi-room pediatrician facility, which was built in the 1950’s is going to handle RF inside of their 4 walls differently than a satellite facility which was built in the 1990’s with different building materials, all factors which must be taken into consideration.

Some may argue that a wireless networking company may want to provide a healthcare wireless site survey as a way to generate additional revenues, and any time money is involved - that question is a valid concern that deserves an answer.

Truthfully, you might get by without a wireless site survey in a healthcare environment, you could also make a very large investment in the equipment and deploy only to find out your “new” 802.11ac technology doesn’t play very well with your current 802.11n configuration. Another discovery might be that the latency in network performance is due to outdated switching infrastructure.

Too many misguided individuals think that wireless is a “do-it-yourself” kind of opportunity.

There are so many different factors that can negatively impact the functionality of a healthcare wireless network, that it is best to align yourself with an organization that helps to achieve your goals, instead of the all-to-common Band-Aid approach. While assembling a desktop or hanging an access point may be accomplished with similar skill sets, the programming of a virtual machine and configuration of a cluster of wireless access points in a healthcare environment are two entirely different areas of study, each requiring large amounts of time and training.

Why would you call a plumber to do a carpenter’s job? The cost of a wireless site survey in healthcare might actually be a really good investment when it’s determined there are only a few coverage gaps to fill in - as opposed to following a manufacturer’s recommendation of replacing the entire network of wireless access points. The decision for your healthcare facility is yours! If you would like some recommendations or have any questions contact us here. We are experts in hospital wireless network design and we are always happy to help. 

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