Bedford Hospital NHS Trust in the UK has deployed a high capacity Xirrus Wi-Fi network throughout its 400-bed acute district general hospital. The wireless network has been deployed to improve patient care and drive clinical excellence, in addition to helping navigate more efficient use of hospital resources.
Recognised as one of the country’s top 40 hospitals for ten successive years, Bedford Hospital has over 2,000 members of staff and provides a range of services to over 270,000 people living in north and mid Bedfordshire.
The wireless network also allows staff to take advantage of the hospital’s Bring Your Own Device strategy (BYOD). Clinicians and staff can use their own devices from anywhere within the hospital without compromising IT security.
Bedford Hospital’s CIO Mark Austin, explained: “We realised that wireless would make it possible for clinicians and other administrative staff to have access to the clinical data they need to be able to work more effectively. For example, doctors can now access patient pathology test results, use electronic Prescribing and Medicines Management (ePMA), or look up x-rays, while doing ward rounds to reduce delays and deliver quicker, better patient outcomes.”
Austin continued: “Doctors want to use their own iPads from anywhere within the hospital to make it easier for them to access data available to them via the internet. Wireless networking makes this straightforward to accommodate, and many staff already own the devices, so costs saved here can be spent elsewhere.”
Austin explained that the hospital had to previous wireless system, but it wanted to invest in mobile technology rather than fixed. ‘BYOD gives people access to want 99% of they want, namely email and access to the Internet where they can consult NICE clinical guidance and so on. The fact that we could have multiple SSIDs on a wireless system was an advantage too.’
Hospital Trust issued devices use one SSID with a very long security key, but the system will automatically recognise the device and whether the user is authorised to use it. Staff BYOD mobile terminals use a separate SSID. The hospital Estates department has another SSID, which staff use to access job allocation and workflow management and processing via PDAs.
‘We needed our own private wireless LAN for BYOD because the problem with hospitals is that they tend to create very nice Faraday cages,’ said Austin. ‘Once you move away from a window the signal drops off and that becomes even worse within the wards where the chances of getting a signal are remote.’
Key network criteria
Austin told Wireless that its tender criteria included flexibility of configuration and ease of coverage to handle the required density of wireless users. ‘We also wanted the vendor to undertake a wireless survey in-situ, so we could get a real RF profile of how the signals would behave inside the building and have the ability to tweak things if the coverage gets distorted by something.
‘Xirrus has directional antennas in its arrays, so you don’t waste coverage if you have an array sited on a corner, you can point the antennas to direct all the signals back into the building,’ explained Austin. ‘We also wanted a wireless system with the ability to handle multiple frequencies, so we can programme radios in certain locations to be of one frequency or another; quite a few medical devices use some of the earlier wireless frequencies, for example.’
A key criteria of the tender was the ability to handle high densities of simultaneous users and the ability to use VoIP and RFID. “We have Microsoft Office Communication Server on our PCs, so you can see if someone is working or on a call, but you can’t see where they are, which you can with the Xirrus system,” said Austin.
Another key consideration was the need to minimise the number of AP installations and cable runs. Austin explained: “The Bedford Hospital site itself dates back to the Victorian era and some of the wards have ‘listed building’ status, meaning there is little that can be done to the walls, floors, ceilings, etc., to accommodate significant IT infrastructure changes.”
Installing the cable runs to the AP sites was the most challenging aspect of the deployment given the 24/7 environment of the hospital, but Austin said: “The beauty of the Xirrus wireless platform is that fewer wireless points are needed, which in turn reduces the amount of cabling and wiring required throughout the hospital, helping to maintain aesthetic integrity.”
Backwards Wi-Fi compatibility
He continued: “Another area where Xirrus stood out from the crowd was coping with potential interference from older wirelessly-connected devices within the hospital, such as patient monitoring equipment, which is critical to patient care. Because of this we needed to use the 5GHz frequency range, which is where the Xirrus kit was ideal as it optimises the Wi-Fi connections for those devices operating in both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bandwidths,” said Austin.
The clinical use of wireless is one of the most visible and obvious uses, but there are other key ways in which Bedford is using the technology to enhance working practices. Pharmacists are also able to use devices that are connected wirelessly to check stocks of particular drugs from wherever they happen to be. The Trust has also taken advantage of the system’s RFID capability and has tagged expensive or scarce items to help with tracking and locating them.
Managers and administrators can hold paperless meetings where they have access to patient records, hospital information, and all the usual data and files they would work with from their usual desk – helping them to make decisions and deliver action plans more efficiently.
Third party access
The hospital also needed to allow third parties such as police officers and representatives of other health-related agencies access to the internet while at meetings in the hospital. From social workers to staff from the transplant authority, being able to get online while attending meetings or patient emergencies at Bedford Hospital can mean reduced administrative delays – information is available instantly. Follow-up actions can be logged, stored and circulated in real time, not after hours or even days have elapsed.
The wireless system helps to improve patient care by giving clinicians access to patient records and clinical information when they need it and where they need it. But Austin said that the goal of a paperless hospital by 2018 is more of an aspiration than a likely reality.
Expanding electronic access
“We have got used to electronic order communications and now we are getting used to ordering things like pharmacy drugs electronically. But now we can also get radiology tests, scans and so on electronically. The doctor or consultant can view them electronically and acknowledge he has done that, so a record is made and everyone can see. The tests might come back with the most abnormal ones highlighted and an alert to look at those first. So, we are nibbling away at the paper problem,” said Austin.
After care and support
One final aspect of the contract is the after and on-going support from Xirrus. Austin said: “If you have a problem you want a support infrastructure to help you. Over the time we’ve had Xirrus that has improved. They now have had a big emphasis on Europe, but when we first dealt with them they were just US-based and we dealt with a third party. But now they ship faulty products within UK to their engineering team and not back to California.
“We keep in touch with the Wi-Fi standard evolution,’ he added. “There is a lot of intelligence in the AP; the antenna is the bit that forms the signal, but it is the intelligence of what you do with the signal that really matters.
“Xirrus technology means you can change it fairly easily or swap out the radio unit entirely, as it is a modular chassis design. The arrays are straight forward to manage; you can see who is logged on to each device and errors are easy to pick up. That is very important and we’ve been very blessed with that capability,” concluded Austin.