COVID-19 Calls for Healthcare Providers to Modernize IT Infrastructure
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing new challenges to healthcare infrastructure that is already stretched thin, now is the time to start taking steps to improve connectivity.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first struck with force in early 2020, everyone from nurses and doctors to government leaders have been working to figure out how best to combat the crisis. Last summer, Dr. Fauci and others testified that testing, contact tracing, research and development, and modernization of research databases and data capabilities are critical areas of current and future response work to COVID-19.
In order to deal with the continuous challenges of the pandemic — and to support proactive efforts to better manage the virus — healthcare providers need to start modernizing their IT infrastructure. Hospitals, in particular, should make sure their networks can handle the many added strains of the pandemic. Not only have they been stretched to capacity — with 100,000 people in the hospital for COVID-19 in the US in early December — hospitals also continue to be a favorite target for cyber criminals.
As wired and wireless communications continue to play a significant role in winning the fight against the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that healthcare providers have modernized IT infrastructures that can support their efforts.
Network Challenges for Healthcare Facilities
Even before COVID-19, hospitals were encountering a lot of challenges with their IT networks. These commonly relate to:
- Unreliable Wi-Fi: Many healthcare facilities struggle with Wi-Fi failure due to a combination of outdated network infrastructure, bandwidth and capacity demands, security risks, and more. Even the physical layout of hospitals can make achieving a good WiFi connection difficult. With the challenges of navigating multiple floors, concrete walls, and drop ceilings, legacy systems often can’t keep up with current connectivity needs.
- Many Devices Sharing a Network: At any given time, a hospital’s network needs to support a wide range of devices. This includes the monitoring devices attached to patients (each patient has three to six devices attached to them while at the hospital), the various electronic medical record activity and healthcare programs that run all day, and even personal devices, like smartphones and tablets, that use Wi-Fi.
When a healthcare facility’s network isn’t able to meet the demands placed on it, essential services like communication between care providers and the real-time availability of patient data can suffer. This can seriously impact the patient experience as well as clinical outcomes.
The Specific Challenges of COVID-19
In addition to these long-term challenges, healthcare facilities are now facing a slew of new challenges specifically related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. On top of their existing difficulties, these facilities now need to navigate:
- Demands on E-Health Records: EHRs are designed to make patient medical information easily available to healthcare workers. At a time when hospitals are at or near capacity and new healthcare providers constantly need to be added to EHR systems to help tackle the virus, the demands on EHRs are higher than ever before. Unfortunately, not all systems are created equal and some can hinder the flow of critical medical information.
- Telehealth Services: Practices across the country are embracing telehealth as a way of increasing the availability of healthcare while maintaining social distance and reducing overcrowding in facilities. The problem is that telecommunications can add strain on already struggling healthcare networks.
- Wi-Fi Availability in New COVID-19 Facilities: High patient numbers and the demand for regular testing has prompted healthcare providers to create alternate COVID-19 facilities in tents in parking lots, colleges, parks, and more. No matter where they’re located, these facilities need Wi-Fi connectivity to access key systems — such as EHR systems and monitoring devices — that are essential to providing care.
- Storing the Vaccine: The COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored at extremely cold temperatures. Some internet of things (IoT) providers are creating wireless sensors to help facilities monitor vaccine storage temperatures remotely. If facilities want to take advantage of these solutions, they need sufficient bandwidth to support more devices.
Modernizing IT Infrastructure to Meet New Demands
With all the obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals are recognizing that new network investments are required to meet these challenges head on and support rapidly increasing demand. Fortunately, there are a lot of options available to help them do that.
The best place to start is with a network assessment that can identify the areas that most need improving. Given the outdated nature of the IT infrastructure in many healthcare facilities, it’s likely that they will need end-to-end networking solutions to meet patient needs. That will likely include adding strategically located Wi-Fi access points that can help with connectivity in the face of a complicated physical layout and large numbers of devices all connecting to the network.
Another good option for healthcare facilities is to invest in predictive network analytics, which can help identify problems before they occur and test important systems regularly to make sure they are working as expected.
To effectively modernize their infrastructure, healthcare facilities need to turn to a partner with experience in healthcare that can find the right solutions for their specific needs. With nearly three decades of experience working with healthcare providers, Turn-key Technologies Inc. (TTI) can find the right solutions to help you start improving your connectivity. Contact us today to learn more about how TTI can help your facility.
By Robert Elgart