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Wireless healthcare deployments depend on secure access

Reliable coverage, data security and minimal downtime are a few of the elements of a sustainable wireless healthcare infrastructure.

Wireless healthcare connectivity has grown to the point where, in some cases, it offers faster connections than traditional wired connections. Beyond its use by tablet and mobile device users, wireless now plays a significant role within healthcare organizations to enable access to patient information and medical devices. However, with the increased dependency on a wireless healthcare infrastructure come the challenges of ensuring all data is protected and access to the data is easy to manage.

Mobility and wireless connectivity have taken on increased importance in healthcare because of the proliferation of mobile devices and apps available to consumers. Within hospitals, long-term care facilities and medical practices, clinicians and caregivers often require wireless access to EHRs and other medical information. The process of supporting more wireless services has required IT departments to upgrade or replace their wireless products with ones that offer enhancements in the following areas.

Policy: An IT department must look for a wireless system that gives an organization the flexibility to establish separate security policies for different sets of users. Fox example, guest users will be more restricted in their access compared to the staff of a healthcare facility.

Quality of service: Connectivity is a must-have for all users, but Internet streaming, access to social media sites and other non-critical traffic should be limited when necessary. Controlling connections to these sources can ensure that end users working on critical internal systems such as EHRs don't experience a drop-off in system performance. A wireless healthcare infrastructure also should be configured to prioritize the quality of service for telemedicine consultations, videoconferencing communication and any other activities that support patient care.

Security: Several methods are available to protect sensitive healthcare information collected or viewed wirelessly. Many of today's enterprise wireless products come equipped with tools to help detect and prevent unauthorized system access and hacks. Wireless intrusion detection systems and wireless intrusion prevention systems are two favorites of healthcare network specialists. These systems should be supplemented with access policies and wireless network security best practices. Standard security practices also must be addressed for the wired network that the wireless healthcare infrastructure resides on. Taking these precautions will go a long way in fortifying a facility's network.

Wireless coverage: Mapping the environment and laying out all access points (APs) is one of the first steps in deploying a wireless implementation. This exercise should be performed by wireless implementation specialists to determine the ideal locations for APs and to avoid any areas with poor coverage. During this early stage, the wireless vendor and healthcare facility should diagnose and plan around any potential interference from other systems.

Management and IT controls: An IT department can be responsible for anywhere from tens to hundreds of APs, depending on the size of the network they're in charge of. For this reason, many network administrators gravitate toward wireless vendors that sell comprehensive management tools that offer a central cloud or on-premises console to manage their entire wireless infrastructure. These management tools can help administrators spot any issues with APs, in addition to other network security problems.

The introduction of faster standards such as 802.11ac and advanced management capabilities offered by many vendors are encouraging healthcare organizations to support more wireless connectivity in their facilities. The flexibility end users gain from being able to stay connected within a healthcare facility through a mobile device can improve access to medical data and patient care markedly.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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