Workstations on Wheels in Hospitals Demand Reliable Wi-FiAugust 9th, 2018 by Sam Cobley
This is an edited version of a blog post from 7SIGNAL which originally appeared here.
The adoption of Workstations on Wheels (WoWs) in the NHS and has flourished in recent years, spurred on by electronic health records (EHRs) and a drive to ensure that the NHS is paper free at the point of care.
A paper-free NHS enables professionals to access information at the point of care in a secure, timely and reliable manner. This supports effective decision-making to improve patient outcomes and delivers high quality care.
In April 2018 the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust was recognised as a top performer nationally for its work around electronic patient records and moving towards paper-free working.
Dr Graham Evans, the trust’s Chief Information and Technology Officer, said “The trust has been in the vanguard of mobile working for many years and was one of the trusts to introduce wireless mobile working as far back as 10 years ago.”
“This journey has taken us from initially using computers on wheels, then laptops on wheels to the point we are at now where we are about to start workstations on wheels. Each step on this journey has been about improving reliability, access, speed of response and affordability. We have also used other complimentary mobile working technologies including, bedside terminals, tablets and smart phones along with desktop computers and laptops.”
But for all these benefits, Workstations on Wheels and other mobile devices are only as good as the Wi-Fi service they depend on.
Wi-Fi Requirements for Workstations on Wheels
Like any emergent technology, WoWs have raised the bar for healthcare facilities. This is a natural consequence of any new technology – particularly those involved in the exchange of critical information. When new capabilities become common, as those provided by WoWs have, the surrounding ecosystem must be set-up to support it without fail.
Consider a nursing ward where the staff have adapted their patient workflows to using WoWs in most patient interactions. They are no longer equipped to respond the old-fashioned way, by taking notes and entering them at the central nurse’s station. Hence, if the hospital Wi-Fi is really slow, or worse has dead spots at certain bedsides, everything falls apart and patient care and satisfaction is impacted.
Therefore, ensuring consistent Wi-Fi performance 24/7 is a critical success factor for WoW deployments. However, this is easier said than done, because Workstations on Wheels are just one of a myriad of devices competing for Wi-Fi service.
Wi-Fi Performance Management
Performance management systems have existed for wired networks for years and years, but WLAN performance management has been ad hoc with a variety of instruments and tools kept in drawers and on shelves. But wireless networks are dynamic systems with many components that must coexist harmoniously to achieve the goals of reliability and high performance.
If WLAN teams are to become proactive they need to visualise and bring to life the wireless ecosystem. Therefore, a Wi-Fi performance management system is required that consists of three elements: active testing, passive testing and Wi-Fi analytics.
Active tests are performed by agents which act like a high-performance client device on the Wi-Fi network, continuously testing Wi-Fi performance when connected through the APs deployed in their vicinity. It’s equivalent to 24-hour-a-day user experience testing and it captures data relating to client throughput, packet loss, latency, jitter and more. These metrics, as well as others, tell the real story about the end-user experience, whereas traditional systems and controllers simply tell you the lights are green, and that people are connecting. This inside-out approach is antiquated because it is not proactive or adequately responsive to the growing needs of wireless users.
Passive tests monitor and measure all RF activity in the environment to tell us if clients can actually take advantage of the performance capabilities as measured by the active testing. Passive tests track channel usage, retransmission rates, data connection rates and environmental interference to gain a complete and accurate picture of how client devices and wireless access points all interact with each other and the environment in which they operate. The two sets of tests form the comprehensive data set that is required to fully understand the behaviour of the network.
The data is all brought to life through Wi-Fi analytics, which allow you to visualize your network in a way that provides actionable intelligence for finding and fixing the root cause of the Wi-Fi performance issues that are inhibiting worker productivity and operational efficiency. Because such systems track and trend performance over time and allow you to set service level targets for performance, you can now be proactive in identifying issues before they actually hamper the performance of clients on your network.
No longer are you reacting to complaints, but rather you are truly managing the Wi-Fi network like the important and strategic asset it is. Trending charts allow you to isolate and correlate changes in the environment to changes in performance and reliability. Service level dashboards tell you when throughput or jitter begin to slip out of compliance. Performance SLAs may be set for particular buildings, areas, or SSIDs, and this allows you to centrally monitor, alert, investigate and resolve issues prior to complaints about lost productivity and without the need to dispatch resources.