Designing & Managing Wireless Networks in Triage and Isolation Units

Designing and Managing Wireless Networks in Triage and Isolation Units

April 13, 2020

For repurposed and newly built triage and isolation units, wireless networks are indispensable.  These networks directly support a number of applications and devices that are critical for patient health and safety.  This includes medical connected devices, data files like electronic health records (EHRs), and wireless RFID-based real time location systems (RTLS).

During the COVID-19 pandemic and other crisis situations, it is more critical than ever that these networks provide reliable and secure service.  Healthcare professionals need an optimized network to facilitate the monitoring of vitals and other direct patient care devices with the immediate analysis and reporting of life-saving data.  IT professionals need the support of an optimized network so that they can focus on other critical day-to-day operations, and trust that the network is supporting the hundreds or thousands of devices and applications that depend on it.

Use these steps to design, deploy, and manage an optimized wired and wireless network, whether it is in the main building of a hospital or clinic, or in a newly built pop-up clinic or isolation unit.

Perform an Active or Passive Site Survey

Passive site surveys can be done if one has access to building CAD drawings, otherwise an active survey may be needed, which can be more expensive and time consuming.  A passive site survey can identifiy all signal blocking due to concrete walls, lead walls in radiology departments, etc. Whereas, active site surveys can go a step further and can also identify  radio-frequency interference from medical devices, or interference from nearby networks and buildings. Both of these, let IT professionals design a wireless network that mitigates that interference.  In addition, the site survey will determine how many access points (APs) are needed for optimum service coverage. Too many APs will lead to throughput issues, channel overlap, and unnecessary cost, while too few will result in dropped coverage and dead zones.  It is non-negotiable that the wireless network provide every inch of the triage with consistently strong service.

If you are building an isolation unit from the ground up, work with network engineers who can perform this site survey. You need to know that a network connection will enable medical staff to treat patients and coordinate care.  If the isolation unit is in an existing part of a healthcare facility, it should have been included in the site survey that was conducted when the facility was originally outfitted with WiFi. You can use a WiFi Assurance tool to see if anything has changed since the original survey to affect the WiFi performance, gain visibility into the entire wireless network of your facility, and determine if the isolation unit has sufficient service, or if tweaks need to be made to the network.

Prioritize Security

HIPAA-protected data must be kept secure, and any malicious users must be kept out of the network.  Ensure that you have robust network security protocols in place at all times to protect patients and employees.  You should employ 2 or 3 SSIDs to separate network traffic and minimize the users that have access to secure data.

  • SSID 1: This is for any secure data, such as medical records or images.  It must be WPA2 protected with enterprise grade security (a WPA2-Enterprise network provides unique encryption keys for each wireless device). This network is for employees only.
  • SSID 2: This is for patients and visitors. It can be password protected or require an acknowledged user policy.
  • SSID 3: This is for IoT medical devices, and other online traffic that doesn’t fit into either of the other two SSIDs.  Many IoT devices don’t support WPA2-Enterprise security, so it’s important to keep them isolated. You can also see if they support WPA2-Personal security, and use that if possible.

In addition, you need to use firewalls, identify rogue APs, identify all connected devices, and provide constant network analytics.

  • Firewalls can be configured to block access/data from certain locations, applications, or ports, while still allowing approved data and connections.  This provides protection from outside threats.
  • Identification of rogue APs and all connected devices: The best way to optimize a network is through proactive monitoring.  Using an analytics tool that identifies all connected devices enables IT to know immediately if something is connected that poses a risk.
  • Constant network analytics: Networks are dynamic ecosystems that are constantly changing.  Monitor and analyze the network 24/7 to always know exactly what is happening, and if any changes need to be made to head off a developing issue before it impacts users.
  • Historical analytics: sometimes it can be difficult to notice changes in real-time. Instead, IT teams need the ability to review past data in order to analyze trends over time, and determine if network health is slowly degrading. This is incredibly helpful in determining when infrastructure needs to be upgraded for continued optimization and security. 

Put Bandwidth Restrictions in Place

If your triage unit shares the same network as the main hospital, and you are concerned that other guests or patients will monopolize the bandwidth, causing critical devices and applications to experience poor performance, you need restrictions.  There are a number of ways to design and enforce restrictions. As one example, you can restrict your guest network’s bandwidth (SSID 2) and expand the capabilities of your main network (SSID 1). You can even forbid certain actions on SSID 2, like video streaming, to head off problems with excessive bandwidth use.

Provide Complete Network Visibility

Once a network is designed and deployed, the hard work only continues.  Now the network must support hundreds or thousands of devices that critically support patient care.  There can be no downtime or performance degradation, and no disruptions.

Using Wyebot’s Wireless Intelligence Platform (WIP), an AI-driven WiFi automation platform, IT professionals get:

  • real-time alerts into network health, reducing onsite troubleshooting visits by up to 80% and WiFi problem tickets by up to 50%, 
  • complete visibility into what devices are using the network and whether applications and servers are working optimally, and 
  • proactive issue identification that determines the cause of a problem at the individual device level, resulting in an up-to 90% reduction in the mean-time-to-resolution.

These capabilities are critical to maintaining an optimized network, especially in situations where network activity is spiking, and new devices are joining the network.

For example, rooms in COVID-19 isolation units must operate under negative pressure to prevent respiratory droplets from entering the hospital’s air supply and potentially affecting staff, patients, and visitors.  Devices that monitor air pressure and send real-time alerts when measurements are above or below set parameters must connect to wired or wireless networks. IT and healthcare professionals need network visibility to know that those devices are successfully connected, and that the network is providing the strong and reliable service necessary for the devices to send alerts.

WIP delivers historical device forensics to support IT in identifying any changes in network performance and health that take place over time.  An unexplained spike or drop in activity over the past day, week, or month is a good indicator that something is wrong and needs to be resolved quickly.  With WIP, IT can review past data on specific devices or on the overall network, and graphs are automatically created to visually display trends over time.

For healthcare facilities with no onsite IT staff, WIP provides remote access and visibility, supporting IT in maintaining optimized networks even when they cannot travel.  The system’s proactive, 24/7 detection, notification, and mitigation of issues gives IT teams the information that they need to swiftly resolve problems before networks and users are impacted.  This keeps networks running smoothly, which means that all connected medical devices and applications perform as needed when they are needed.

When it comes to crisis management, every detail matters for the safety and care of all patients and employees.  Insights must be delivered automatically and quickly, in order for healthcare professionals to provide the services that patients depend on.  Talk to us today to see how we can bring WIP’s life saving capabilities to your facility.