Why Your Hospital’s Wi-Fi Network May Be Giving You Problems

Why Your Hospital’s Wi-Fi Network May Be Giving You Problems

Possible causes for weak signals, no service, and dropped connections

Managing network connectivity in a hospital is either a provider’s nightmare or their dream project. It’s an extremely complicated task that requires a deep understanding of the industry and an ability to be creative within the confines of the environment.

Setting up a network in a regular office is difficult enough. Now add dozens of floors, thousands of devices, thousands of users with different levels of access, and a decades-old building, and you can imagine how difficult the job becomes in a hospital.

Oh, and there can never be any downtime for maintenance because the connection is vital to medical machines supporting patients and the doctors that need them for diagnosis and treatment. In extreme cases, a weak signal or a break in service could mean the difference between life and death for someone.

This is all to say that managing a Wi-Fi network in a hospital is a serious business. There may be certain parts of a facility that don’t get service at all or have a very weak connection. This could be due to building design, device overload, or poor network design, just to name a few possibilities. It’s important to understand the cause so issues can be resolved before they create a real problem.

Bones of the building

Unless hospitals are brand new and designed for optimal network performance, it’s likely that network engineers will have to maneuver around tricky building materials. Metal, concrete, and brick are usually the cause of interference, but even drywall and glass can block signals.

This problem only amplifies when a building gets taller and more spread out. Many hospitals also acquire property as time goes on, and these buildings may be completely different than the original structure. IT teams may have to configure a network across multiple campuses and building styles.

An intricate and well-thought-out network design with well-placed access points is necessary for the network to perform consistently in every area of the hospital.

Poorly designed access points

Doctors and hospital personnel often move fast. They may run from floor to floor and wing to wing in a matter of seconds. But what if they completely lose service in the east stairwell during the time they’re moving between the eighth and first floors because the network’s roaming capabilities are insufficient? Those could be precious lost seconds blocking vital information for a patient.

Access point (AP) design is critical to give users a consistent and strong signal. Traffic, the number of devices connecting to the network, building materials, and location are all part of the equation. There may not be enough APs to handle the traffic in a busy location where users keep losing signal. Maybe the AP is too close to an outside wall, so half of the signal is being pushed into the parking lot, or maybe they’re too close to a microwave or MRI machine that’s causing interference.

Wi-Fi roaming needs to be seamless in a hospital so doctors and patients can get the information they need on the move. If there is a certain area where this keeps happening, check the access points and signal overlap for interference.

Device overload

Think of how many devices are connected to the network at any given time in a hospital. Between medical machines, personal devices, IoT devices, and normal hospital computers, the number is in the thousands.

This is probably the most difficult issue to plan for because it’s constantly changing. Equipment is brought in and out of the hospital every day, new patients and their families are coming in with their own host of personal devices, and the use of IoT devices overall is on the rise.

The incredible number of devices on the network may explain why parts of a hospital have weak or no service at different times. The network can only handle so much.

A random hallway may be the site of an emergency that draws dozens of people and devices to the scene. A local disaster could flood the waiting room with hundreds of families waiting for news. Hospital networks need to be designed to handle the maximum capacity for situations like these. They may not happen often but when they do, doctors and patients still need high-quality performance.

Segmentation can help mitigate this issue so not all devices are competing on the same level for service. Giving different permissions and usage allowances to different devices will establish a priority list and varying levels of security—so that MRI and EKG machines aren’t given the same priority on the network as a visitor’s smartwatch.

A guest Wi-Fi network is fairly common in today’s hospitals to help diminish the stress on the main network. This separates some of the lower-priority devices from interfering or taking up valuable space.

Outdated systems

Certain parts of a hospital may not be getting service simply because the system is outdated. It’s recommended that Wi-Fi network infrastructure is replaced every four to five years, and it could be a lot shorter for the healthcare industry due to software updates and changes in technology. If service is poor all around and other troubleshooting isn’t working, it may be time to look into an upgrade.

Diagnosing the problem

It’s pretty common in workplaces these days to see employees just accept that there is one bad corner of the office that loses signal, or to realize that they can’t send emails when the microwave is running. But the high-stakes situations in a hospital environment make this unacceptable.

Having a reliable network means that doctors can function at a higher rate, providing faster and better care to patients. It means that patients can access their information, keep in touch with family and friends, and continue living life as normally as possible. It also means that visitors can smoothly update loved ones and communicate with doctors, if necessary.

A high-quality healthcare IT infrastructure can save lives and increase patient satisfaction scores that are vital to funding in some facilities. Hospitals are not normal places of work, and their network needs shouldn’t be treated like one. Understanding some of the reasons why network performance is suffering can point out some serious underlying problems and lead to crucial improvements.

7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.

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