August 28, 2013

The Connected Patient – Is Your Hospital Wi-Fi Becoming an ISP?

Part 2 of a 4 part series on design considerations for today’s hospital Wi-Fi environment.

We live in a connected world, and expectations for having connectivity whether you are at home, staying in a hotel, in a Starbucks, or even at the hospital are the same.

Hotel guests expect solid Wi-Fi service. “WiFi in hotels should be like pillows: just there,” said Joanna Young, CIO of UNH. The connected customer is also a connected patient and it falls to the hospital IT organization to deliver.  In healthcare, patients are not only expecting the same level of performance, but they don’t care that the network is also used by clinicians, medical devices, building services, and a host of other “mission critical” and “life critical” systems.  They  expect a reliable high performance offering.  This wasn’t always this way…

When guest Wi-Fi services started rolling out in hospitals expectations were pretty small.  First it was considered a novelty, patients and visitors were pleasantly surprised that they could get online.  Secondly, in those ‘Pre iPhone” days the number of connected devices was rather small namely a handful of PDAs (remember those?) some laptops, a couple of smartphones and even a few tablets.  Offering guest Wi-Fi connectivity had limited impact to the overall Hospital WLAN and Internet connection.  It was a “nice to have” feature that IT could offer as a byproduct of their wireless expansions.

All that changed 5 years ago with the introduction of the iPhone.  Suddenly there was a very popular handheld device out there that was easy to use and became a must have device.  Its major limitation at the time was that the GPRS/EDGE connections meant that if you were not on Wi-Fi the experience felt like a dial up modem. Very quickly users learned to look for and join open Wi-Fi networks.

5 years later smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and a host of other Wi-Fi connected devices have exploded in popularity beyond anyone’s expectations.  Besides saturating a network with connected devices many applications such as video conferencing with Skype, FaceTime, entertainment services Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go, strain the hospital network’s limited bandwidth.

Accepting the reality that Hospital is an ISP and its not going away is the first step in looking at this as an opportunity not a problem.  Lets roll up our sleeves and make sure we take full advantage of this chance for IT to shine in front of the patients and hospital leadership.

View guest Wi-Fi as an opportunity to engage with patients and showcase the hospital services.  That captive portal splash page should never be just a generic terms and conditions page for acceptable use.  No matter the screen size, it’s a miniature billboard that has your patient or visitors full attention.  Don’t waste it!  Engage with the hospital marketing team to have a customized user for both the splash and landing pages.  A couple of points of advice:

  • Make the network easy to find.  The SSID should also include Hospital/Guest.

  • Splash and landing pages needs to be easy to navigate with any device.

  • Don’t make the experience confusing.  Ask random staff to test new pages for their experience.

  • Use the pages for patient engagement.  Multilanguage assistance, or hospital messaging.  It’s a great opportunity for patients to download hospital apps, or see vaccine reminders, etc.

About The Contributor:
Bob ZemkeDirector of Healthcare Solutions

Bob Zemke is the Director of Healthcare Solutions and is responsible for the healthcare market strategy at Extreme Networks. An IT professional with a broad span of experience in healthcare, Bob has over 14 years working both within hospital IT and as a consultant in next generation network design, deployment and management. Bob has been featured in publications such as HealthCare Design Magazine, Mobile Wireless Magazine, and Healthcare Executive Exchange. He is coauthor of a book entitled "WiFi Enabled Healthcare" that is available on Amazon.com. Bob frequently participates industry-specific events including HIMSS, Enterprise Connect, Interop and is active in the AAMI, CWNP, IEEE, and HIMSS organizations . Bob holds an BA degree in Telecommunications Management from Western Michigan University and his MS in Telecommunications and Network Management from Syracuse University's iSchool.

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