The Beacon

Wi-Fi®’s legacy of interoperability and its benefits in healthcare

April 15, 2014 by Stephanie Lubrano, Laird Technologies

Although Wi-Fi® was initially focused on consumer markets, it quickly proved beneficial for industrial and enterprise settings. The finalization of the 802.11n standard in 2009 brought MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) and improved range. 802.11n also was the first standard to use both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. The 802.11n standard encouraged market development from enterprise mobile device manufacturers looking to fill the advanced in-network roaming features required in very challenging environments such as warehouses and factories.

Wi-Fi in Healthcare

The benefits of increased efficiency, accuracy of data, and lower costs obtained in industrial markets utilizing Wi-Fi technology, including AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture), were not overlooked by the medical market. If hospitals could also leverage this technology to improve clinical workflow, increase accuracy of patient data, and deliver better patient care, it could transform the industry.

Hospitals were also facing external and internal pressures to keep up with the latest technologies. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance white paper released in 2011, Wi-Fi in Healthcare: The solution for growing hospital communication needs, “Hospital IT administrators are facing an ever-increasing need to attach medical devices and applications to the Wi-Fi network in order to support EMRs and clinical information systems (CIS)”.

Just as the surge of smartphones and tablets has fueled the connected consumer markets, hospital staff within the U.S. desires the presence of a similarly mature technology in their workplace. Wi-Fi technology is quickly transforming from a nice-to-have feature to a requirement in most hospitals, with pressure coming from not only the patients and guests looking to access the guest network but also the growing trend of BYOD. Nurses and doctors are expecting this technology in order to effectively complete their daily tasks, such as:

  • Accessing real-time medical records:  Once a medical device is associated to a patient, medical device data can be stored in the patient’s electronic medical records (EMRs). More complete data on a patient leads to better patient care because doctors will have constant access to important information such as blood type, prescribed drugs, medical conditions, and other aspects of the patient’s medical history. Healthcare providers improve their ability to make well-informed treatment decisions with more complete patient information. This also decreases the likelihood of doctors ordering repeat tests, which waste time and money.
  • Remote monitoring: A network-connected device can be monitored from a central point of control, such as a nurse’s station. This enables nurses to monitor the health of many patients without constantly moving from one patient room to the next. It also can give nurses visual alerts of potential issues with patients, augmenting an audible alarm that a nurse may not hear.
  • Device management: Another example of the benefits of a centrally monitored device is if a network-connected infusion pump needs a new drug library, the network can be leveraged to download the library to the pump, where an application can install the library on the pump.

According to the West Health Institute, medical device interoperability means the ability for clinical medical devices to communicate reliably, allowing for the exchange of data from other medical devices and with the electronic health record (EHR) in order to enhance device and system functionality. A survey from HIMSS Analytics reports that while over 90% of hospitals surveyed use six or more types of devices, such as infusion pumps and patient monitors that could be integrated with an EHR, only a third of those hospitals actually integrate medical devices with EHRs. Although hospitals are beginning to lay the groundwork for this technology, actual adoption and use of Wi-Fi to create intelligent medical devices is still very minimal.

A great opportunity still exists for hospital IT staff, medical device manufacturers, wireless module manufacturers, and infrastructure providers to lead the way in generating guidelines and interoperability standards for wireless technology in hospitals. The benefits of interoperability for medical devices include reducing time spent manually entering medical data and patient information, reducing costs by avoiding redundant medical testing and transcription errors, and improving overall patient safety and care. These benefits could potentially result in a savings of approximately $36 billion across segments of healthcare in the U.S. In addition to savings incurred by hospitals, medical device manufacturers would also experience savings by only having to meet one set of interoperability standards. According to the West Health Institute, “these costs could drop to $87 million, saving approximately $430 million in device development and testing costs industry-wide”.

Moving to the Fully Connected Hospital

In September of 2013, the FDA, with the assistance of AAMI, recognized a set of voluntary standards for interoperability. The list contains 25 standards on medical device interoperability and covers issues including management of IT networks and security. Other groups have made efforts towards interoperability standards as well, such as the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) and the Medical Device “Plug-and-Play” (MDPnP) Interoperability Program.

Interoperability is also a function of the Wi-Fi module provider and the features the module provides. In order to ensure reliable connectivity for medical devices, it is imperative that Wi-Fi radios embedded in those medical devices are optimized for roaming, thorough testing specific to a hospital environment, include dual-mode support for both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz operation, and support WPA2™-Enterprise security. In addition, it is essential for most medical devices to be Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™, signifying a seal of approval that they have met industry-agreed standards for interoperability, security, and a range of application specific protocols. For further information on these topics and more, visit http://www.lairdtech.com/EWS-Connected-Hospital.

The vision of the Connected Hospital, one in which all medical devices within a hospital are reliably and securely connected and sharing intelligent data, is not as far as we may think.

The statements and opinions by each Wi-Fi Alliance member and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions or views of Wi-Fi Alliance or any other member. Wi-Fi Alliance is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by any member in posting to or commenting on this blog. Concerns should be directed to info@wi-fi.org.

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Stephanie Lubrano

Laird Technologies

Stephanie Lubrano is a Marketing Communications Specialist for the Embedded Wireless Solutions unit of Laird. Stephanie is responsible for developing marketing strategies to drive brand awareness and thought-leadership, including activities such as online advertising, content marketing, and social media. She graduated from The University of Akron with a Bachelor of Business in Business Administration with a focus in International Business and Marketing.