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Hospital telecommunications network tips from an expert

Building in redundancy, using VLANs and accommodating EHR workflow volume, IoT capabilities and patient Wi-Fi access are all essential to good hospital network design.

A modern hospital telecommunications network must be able to accommodate not only high volumes of EHR traffic,...

but also the myriad of connected devices in hospitals and patient access to Wi-Fi.

Lanny HartLanny Hart

Hospital telecommunications network experts also say healthcare networks should be built with cybersecurity top of mind, whether it's primarily handled by the network itself or on applications layered over the network, or both.

Here are some hospital telecommunications network tips from Lanny Hart, technical architect for ICE Technologies, Inc., an Iowa-based networking and health IT consulting firm that works with small and medium-sized hospitals:

  • Network topologies must be efficient. A hub-and-spoke design, with a core in the middle, is best, rather than a "daisy chain" of haphazardly linked sub-networks and switches. "It helps with troubleshooting," Hart said. "If something does go wrong, or off-kilter, it just helps with remediating the issue a lot quicker."
  • Seek to eliminate single points of failure. Communication lines from edge switches to the network core should have two separate runs of fiber or cable to ensure redundancy and uptime.
  • Use redundant virtual servers "so one can go down [and] it keeps the environment up," Hart said.
  • Use VLANs (virtual local area networks) for PACS (picture archiving and communication systems) and separate hospital departments.
  • Segment access to virtual networks, including guest Wi-Fi, so only authorized users can access individual networks.
  • Patient and visitor Wi-Fi "is expected now," Hart said. "Five or six years ago it was almost a luxury."
  • ICE's healthcare-grade standard is Cisco for the underlying network for new networks, compatibility with software systems and applications from multiple vendors, and built-in firewalls for perimeter security. Above that, "you have to have a layered approach, with separate systems that look for ransomware, for example, according to Hart.
  • For all but the biggest hospital systems and integrated data networks, use disc backup archives and store off site for affordable disaster recovery, or use cloud backup storage for bigger hospitals.
  • Build as much wireless network connectivity into new hospital construction as possible and blend wired and wireless networks when upgrading networks in old buildings. Thick walls may impede wireless connectivity.
  • Place wireless access points strategically; for example, radiology departments' X-rays may obstruct wireless access.
  • Even in new hospitals, networks can't yet be completely wireless because big hardware such as CT scan and MRI machines can't run off of wireless connectivity.
  • For bigger hospitals that use RTLS (real-time location services), factor in that traffic for bandwidth size.

What do you think about these hospital telecommunications network tips? Are there any you think we missed? Let me know by email at [email protected] or on Twitter: @ssutner

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