Connected hospitals offer improved patient care, reduced admissions, remote home monitoring, and financial benefits.
Hospitals are becoming more connected with the increase use of wireless medical devices, which allow patients and caregivers the freedom to move about the hospital while the patient’s health is still monitored and documented automatically.
The connected hospital integrates Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Bluetooth low energy, to provide the necessary bandwidth that connects the various medical devices. The devices can then communicate with each other and to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system, which is a mass collection of electronic health information regarding the hospital’s patient population. It allows health records to be saved in digital format so the information can be shared through various hospital care locations and means.
The reception of the connected hospital has been a positive one. There is cooperation among hospital IT departments, medical device manufacturers, such as Laird Technologies, and enterprise network manufacturers, like Cisco and Qualcomm, to make the connected hospital happen. There is a drive toward the EHR system and utilizing the records in a significant way. This means an automated system where data is transferred automatically from the devices to the EHR. Then the patients are monitored constantly for any changes in their health.
The data is taken directly from devices in real-time with medical devices, such as blood pressure sensors, infusion pumps, and even smart beds, alerting caregivers of any change in their patients’ health so immediate action can be taken. The information is uploaded from the patients’ devices directly to the EHR, not only giving doctors and nurses a complete and accurate health profile of the patient, but also giving them more time to spend caring for the patients instead of documenting the information themselves.
Communication between Medical Devices
As the move to wireless devices developed in the hospital, medical devices had to adapt to the new setting. Nomadic workstations, such as laptops and computer stands, changed to tablets and wearable monitors and sensors. The users can move throughout the hospital. Accordingly, this shift in technology brings new difficulties to the hospital enterprise.
To apply this technology, a hospital IT infrastructure is built solely for the medical devices so they can easily transmit information to the hospital’s EHR. Hospital enterprises need to have the capacity and capability to allow for connectivity in every part of the hospital, and they need to be able to properly separate guest mobile devices from caregiver devices. “It takes a long time to roll over a hospital’s IT infrastructure to be able to support the new technology, and how to segment out the network accordingly,” says Chris Downey, product director of Embedded Wireless Solutions for Laird Technologies. Laird produces medical devices that are equipped with the necessary tools and capabilities needed to work efficiently in a hospital enterprise.
Interoperability between the medical device manufacturers (like Laird), who provide the base connectivity for the devices, and the IT department is crucial if the physical layer of communication is going to work. Medical device manufacturers are increasing the amount of devices that have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities to accommodate the shift towards wireless connectivity in hospitals.
The increase of these devices in hospitals means the bandwidth capability of hospital enterprises needs to grow as well. There is always a concern for the amount of bandwidth available. In order to overcome this need, IT departments are required to plan ahead and design their network infrastructure to be flexible so it can grow to avoid any difficulties that IT departments encounter when augmenting the infrastructure.
Improved patient care is the number one objective of the connected hospital. The time nurses spend on their rounds checking and documenting vital signs to the EHR of every patient on their rotation is significantly lower now that medical devices are automated. Nurses monitor information from a single mobile work station, increasing work efficiency and giving them more time with the patient. The automated system also gives the patients and their families reassurance that they are receiving the correct dosage of medicine, and that their payments are up to date.
Another improvement with many benefits are wearable medical devices, which allow doctors and nurses to monitor the patients’ progression and health at home. Remote home monitoring also leads to better educated patients. Caregivers show their patients how the devices can improve their health when used correctly, giving the patients a better picture of their situation. All of these aspects contribute to reducing the number of patient readmissions.
The connected hospital reaps financial benefits as well. Complete and accurate billing statements are updated directly to the EHR, which prevents any loss of revenue.
Securing the Connected Hospital
The complex nature of a hospital’s RF environment makes it essential that all of the data being transmitted remain secure. This is why hospital enterprises utilize multiple layers of protection to ensure the security of patient records.
The networks are first encrypted using an advanced encryption standard (AES) specification, which is a 128 bit encryption that meets federal government requirements. This scrambles the data into random pieces making it difficult to break.
Authentication protocols for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth add yet another layer of security. The most common form of authentication found in hospital enterprises are extensible authentication protocols, or Tunnel EAP Methods, specifically WPA2-Enterprise Security and FIPS 140-2.
These Robust Security Networks (RSN) establish a unique key, or certificate, built directly into the medical device. These specific keys are then shared and verified by the hospital IT department before they are allowed access onto the enterprise. This gives the hospital security and IT departments the ability to keep tabs on every device that has gained access to the network. Recently developed medical devices that Laird and many other manufacturers are designing are equipped with these protective qualities and intended specifically for the application of the connected hospital vision. Downey states that, “these are the kinds of protocols that [Laird adheres to] for the best practices of these security guidelines.”
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)