One southern hospital turned to a distributed antenna system coupled with virtualized WLAN to provide robust Wi-Fi coverage so that doctors and other healthcare providers can boost productivity with tablets and other mobile devices.
Memphis-based Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital is a 309-bed facility that is part of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, which employs over 10,000 employees at five hospitals and outpatient settings in Memphis.
Recently, the hospital realized that it had a need for better Wi-Fi coverage. In addition, it realized that its medical network needed to be isolated from other Wi-Fi services, because the data is time-sensitive and should not compete with other services for "air time." The hospital needed to address the fact that the requirements were vastly different between medical and standard enterprise Wi-Fi devices.
The solution brought together InnerWireless
, an in-building wireless provider and system integrator, and Meru Networks
, a supplier of virtualized enterprise wireless LAN technology.
Why did the hospital select InnerWireless and Meru in specific? "Some of our hospital buildings are very old, and some are new," says Don Huff, corporate director of clinical technology services. "The InnerWireless design had a few advantages. One, it works in any space, because it is engineered for the space."
Second, if it needs to be upgraded, the hospital doesn't have to get back into the patient space, which is very costly, especially because of infection control procedures. Third, InnerWireless handles all of the different technologies: cellular, radio, Wi-Fi, medical telemetry, and others, all working on one common system. "Meru is a good complement as well," he adds.
The collaboration combines the InnerWireless broadband Horizon4G Distributed Antenna System (DAS), which delivers key ubiquitous wireless services, including 3G/4G smartphones, Wi-Fi tablets, fire/life safety, medical devices, and paging, with Meru's virtualized WLAN. The integration of the DAS is straightforward, requiring no changes to Meru's standard software, WLAN controllers, or switches.
The hospital has done a preliminary release of tablets for CPOE (computerized physician order entry). "Instead of dictating orders to a nurse, and then the nurse putting the information into the system, as well as making phone calls, physicians can enter this information on the tablets themselves," explains Huff. "Physicians also like the fact that the tablets are mobile, so they can take them anywhere with them."
The InnerWireless and Meru solutions are highly complementary, providing effective mobile performance and delivering tangible IT benefits, according to Huff. For example, Meru .11n access ports utilize the DAS remote antennas to provide coverage, eliminating the need for duplicate RF designs. In addition, the hospital can provide additional WLAN capacity by simply adding Meru access points to ceiling cabinets, minimizing new cable runs and any disruption to the patient care areas.
The joint effort between InnerWireless and Meru Networks was further enhanced through Meru WINS (Wireless Interoperability and Network Solutions), a program which ensures that joint solutions involving Meru and companies such as InnerWireless work seamlessly to provide customers with a stable wireless "ecosystem."
Is there any interference? "If you don't have an antenna system, you usually install a 5-watt or 10-watt transmitter somewhere in the middle of the building and basically 'blast' the building," replies Huff. "This leaves all kind of room for interference." However, with an antenna system, you are using copper to carry it around the building, instead of trying to blast it through the walls. "This helps to reduce interference, because all of the signals are controlled," he explains.
As noted earlier, physician productivity has increased. In addition, the hospital deployed EMR (electronic medical records), and all of its nursing staff uses this wirelessly for patient assessments. "This leads to improved productivity," states Huff. "The VoIP, of course, also improves productivity." The hospital also has nurse-call paging, which lets the nurse know who is calling and what the call is about, right at the point of care. "As a result, when they are caring for one patient, they can make a decision right away whether they should stay there or assist another patient," he adds.
The combination of an InnerWireless DAS with Meru's channel layering technology provides the hospital with the ability to easily expand Wi-Fi capacity without service interruption, as well as to systematically manage Wi-Fi traffic, which provides the service quality that is necessary for mission-critical applications.
Most important, the new solution allows the hospital to keep medical devices on separate channels, assuring the level of uninterrupted communication that the hospital requires. As a result, Huff believes that the solution is aligned with the spirit of the 80001-1 risk management standard from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which ensures that patient care and safety and not compromised when medical devices are connected to IT networks.
Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown was the first hospital in the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system to implement the InnerWireless and Meru solution. "We now have our other hospitals in the process of implementing the same solution," states Huff. "All of them are slightly different 'flavors,' because, once you install an antenna, you can add services as budgets allow or as demand requires. As a result, some of our facilities are almost complete, with VoIP, cellular, radio, telemetry, and so on. Others have implemented only a portion of these."
Eventually, the hospital system plans to roll everything out in all of the facilities. "Again, one thing we really like is that we can do these additional roll-outs with minimum cost and interference to the patient care areas," he notes.
According to Huff, a key to success in an installation like this is to know what you need before you start. "You need to perform a comprehensive five-year needs assessment upfront," he suggests. "You need to do this before you make a decision on the type of infrastructure and devices you are going to use." Second, he suggests, try to keep your medical equipment and standard enterprise devices separated as much as possible.