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Jun 28 2011   10:52AM GMT

Network and infrastructure considerations for mHealth and mobile devices

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
Infrastructure, mHealth, Mobile devices, mobile health, Network optimization, WAN, Wireless

Guest post by: Rob Shaughnessy, CTO, Circadence

1. What impact are mobile devices having on health care organizations’ networks?

The increased adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) has given physicians, nurses and other health care professionals the ability to access information from mobile devices including laptops, tablets and smartphones. The use of mobile devices and remote site access is becoming the norm for many health care workers, giving them 24-7 access to critical information from virtually anywhere. While mobile computing in health care is reducing costs and improving quality care, it can also adversely affect the performance and reliability of the overall existing network infrastructure. Health care workers must have reliable access to data, regardless of the network connection.

2. What are some of the key wireless infrastructure challenges?

Mobile devices also present enormous challenges in terms of the quality of connection and performance of the end device. It’s critical that administrators ensure that they can provide a performing high-quality connection to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. However, most mobile devices have a less consistent and reliable connection versus a desktop computer. For example, a doctor who wants to look at patient images on his tablet may find that the image takes longer to load. What’s more, he may have to request the image more than once if there’s a network disruption while the data is loading.

Traditionally, health care organizations have been slow to adopt wireless technology and wireless networks. Many hospitals need to implement a wireless structure before they adopt wireless devices such as tablets and smartphones. In some instances hospitals and health care organizations may have a wireless network in place, but connectivity to the system has been on ad hoc basis. Before fully adopting a more mobile workforce, they have to ensure there’s a larger umbrella of coverage enabling multiple devices to connect to the network.

In order to successfully integrate mobile devices, health care organizations need to employ an infrastructure that can provide high quality service to its users’ mobile devices. They should also have policies and processes in place to ensure their network policies and external access of the wireless network.

3. What are the keys to improving the speed and efficiency with which data is shared?

With wireless WAN acceleration, health care organizations can address issues traditionally associated with high mobile usage rates such as increased network traffic. Wireless WAN acceleration ensures that health care providers can still receive images and critical data in a timely manner on any device, which enhances overall patient care.

Network optimization is required to make sure the end user’s experience makes mobile computing worthwhile. Traditional forms of WAN optimization rely heavily on file caching to optimize WAN traffic. For radiologists and medical imaging professionals this may mean that files are slow to transfer and their quality may be compressed.

Health care organizations also need to guarantee that their network meets regulations — such as HIPAA and does not alter patient data and files that are transferred to mobile devices. It’s also important to implement an infrastructure that can be seamlessly integrated with your enterprise and mobile devices. Finally, health care organizations need to ensure that they have administrative control over the infrastructure as well as their mobile footprint.

4. What are the primary benefits of network optimization?

With network optimization, health care organizations can decrease the amount of time to transfer files, images and other data while ensuring the accurate transfer of images and key data. By implementing wide area network (WAN) optimization, it’s possible to improve transfer speeds images by more than 300 percent. For example, using Circadence, one health care organization was able to reduce the time required to complete one image transfer from three minutes and 43 seconds down to 13 seconds.

Traditional forms of WAN optimization rely heavily on file caching to optimize WAN traffic. Caching techniques can prevent the transfer of unique images across the WAN, which renders WAN optimization useless. Another issue can be network congestion and temporary outages, which cause lags in data transmission.

WAN optimization can result in significant decreases in the incidence of corrupt, incomplete or lost files in the network. Increasing data integrity and reliability improves the quality of health care provided by medical imaging institutions and limits the number of resends that are typically required when either no optimization used or traditional caching methods of optimization are implemented.

5. How should IT leaders account for privacy and security assurance in an increasingly mobile world?

Under regulations like HIPAA, health care organizations must ensure that patients’ privacy is protected; this includes protecting confidential information. However, with the rise of electronic health records (EHRs) and mobile applications, data about patients is increasingly shared via networks that may not be secure. For example, many health care providers rely on sending information over public networks. Organizations that send unencrypted, private medical records over public networks risk non-compliance with HIPAA regulations.

To ensure the security of data, organizations need to have security measures in place governing access, authenticating users and devices and protecting data. Organizations should have end-to-end encryption of all data from the enterprise to the mobile device and vice versa.

Health care organizations should also have authentication policies and procedures in place for all users and their mobile devices as well as access control. With virtual private networks (VPNs), health care organizations can create such authentication controls as well as govern what applications or part of the network individual users can access.

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