Navigating the Integration Superhighway

Healthcare Design Magazine

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    Communication is the transportation of information. Just as America’s roads and highways can be small and overcrowded or vast and speed-driven, so can today’s hospital communications systems.

    By dissolving individual wireless and stationary network systems into a single, integrated superhighway, hospitals can save in total upfront, construction and maintenance costs, while simultaneously increasing reliability and redundancy.

    Wireless and stationary systems

    Wireless voice/data. Wireless voice and data systems are a vital part of all progressive healthcare facilities. From laptops, cell phones, and pagers to electronic medical records (EMR) and wireless patient charting, today’s medical centers want their physicians and caregivers to communicate with each other and the hospital network from any point on campus.

    To generate 100%-reliable wireless voice and data communication in hard-to-reach spaces like staircases, basements, elevators, and parking structures, strategically place Wireless Access Points (APs) throughout a hospital’s floors, in each elevator cab, and minimally at every third flight of stairs.

    Special attention must be paid to shielded rooms (i.e., MRI and radiology suites) that block dangerous radio waves from leaving the space. This shielding also obstructs wireless signals, though, creating a “shadow” behind the room. This challenge can be met by specifying additional APs locally to offset the shaded spots.

    Although wireless voice and data systems can increase flexibility and communication within a hospital, they also have their limitations. Securing wireless systems is a challenge for owners and designers, while today’s wireless bandwidth, currently running at about 54MB (per 802.11 N standard), still rations the amount of transmittable information at any particular time.

    Wireless radio. In large healthcare centers where multiple buildings are used to house a variety of services, patients are often shuttled back and forth between diagnostic and treatment areas, isolation spaces (such as ORs), and their own patient rooms. These expansive campus centers take the need for wireless systems to the next level, requiring 100%-reliable wireless radio distribution, as well.

    While wireless voice and data system employ an internally-generated frequency, wireless radio uses an external frequency, brought into the hospital by a rooftop antenna. Through a series of fiber cables and internal antennas in the same hard-to-reach places as described above, the wireless radio signal can be enhanced throughout the healthcare facility to create 100% wireless radio coverage.

    Stationary systems. While a wireless system is ideal for many hospital functions, it is not right for every application. Clinical systems like the picture archiving system (PACS), medication dispensing system, and the computer physician order entry (CPOE) system require high-powered infrastructure support, and are therefore unable to go wireless because of their large files.

    Nonclinical or support systems like the nurse call, intercom, and building automation systems, on the other hand, demand significantly less power and memory than other systems, requiring a slower, stationary connection to accomplish their jobs.

    Effective stationary systems design can be accomplished by right-sizing the infrastructure to provide both clinical and nonclinical systems with the amount of support they need.

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