Hospital merger compels upgrade in wireless networks

Growing demands for wireless connectivity, ranging from Internet of Thing devices to patient expectations for Wi-Fi access, prodded Toronto-based Scarborough and Rouge Hospital to upgrade its networks.

In December, the organization—recently formed through a merger—decided to expand wireless capabilities dramatically, selecting a gigabit wireless network from Aruba, owned by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In doing so, the system says it wants to improve the efficiency for nurses and physicians.

The new wireless network, the first complete deployment of an Aruba 802.11ac Wave 2 network at a hospital in Canada, also will ensure that the hospital can accommodate future use cases and applications, such as indoor location services.

The provider merger brought together Scarborough Hospital’s Birchmount and General facilities with Centenary Hospital of Rouge Valley Health System. The wireless network went live in December at Birchmount and General, with Centenary now doing its upgrade.

Scarborough General Front-CROP.jpg
Scarborough General

The new wireless network is a considerable improvement over the previous level of connectivity from the legacy network, says Gary Lam, manager of technical services.

Patient satisfaction was a big part of the move to increase wireless connectivity because it was sporadic in patient rooms and there was no Wi-Fi.

“We encountered a number of limitations, including inability to deliver the speed required to efficiently use newer mobile medical equipment, such as ultrasound devices for sending images, IV pumps for infusion data and clocks for time updates,” Lam says.

“Furthermore, with the assumption that we’ll connect even more devices in the future, and an expectation of our patients and physician groups that they can use the latest laptop, smartphones and tablets, we needed to put in place a network that could handle the speed and density to accommodate all of these,” he adds.

Scarborough and Rouge contracted with telecommunications firm TELUS to assist in creating a request for proposals.

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Aruba got the contract because its technology integration experience was superior to other considered vendors; it had updated firmware and internal firewalls; offered access point security software as part of the package and not an add-on, which lowered costs; and had a very attractive warranty, Lam says.

TELUS also assisted in laying out wireless access point locations, technical implementation and integration services. Now, connectivity is strong, and patients have WI-FI access, Lam says.

But it takes time to get optimal wireless strength implemented across hospitals, Lam notes. When access points were installed, coverage throughout the facility did not meet expectations, and workers had to test access by walking throughout the buildings.

Lam and other hospital personnel made several walk-arounds with TELUS, repositioning access points in Birchmount and General hospitals. Other organizations embarking a similar enterprisewide program can expect the same level of manual effort, Lam advises. “There’s a lot of configuration tweaks and optimization to be done. A good walkaround can take a week.”

He advises doing a pre-site survey to make sure the configurations and access points the vendor is installing are accurate. The access points put in during the survey and checked for signal strength helps extrapolate how many access points will be needed across the building.

There also is work needed to mitigate interference from new equipment that comes in the facility, such as a microwave or fire-rated doors that block wireless signals.

Operating rooms, with all the equipment inside of them, were particularly troublesome as the equipment increases interference, according to Lam, so there was plenty of re-positioning of wireless access points to make sure that data signals were strong.

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