Physicians are mobile workers. Some may work in more than one practice location; others may use multiple examination rooms in a single clinical setting. However, one feature common to all physicians is that they move around during a clinical examination. Unless a physician has an administrative job, they are usually not restricted to a desk and a single computer. This creates certain challenges when it comes to hardware in the examination room and throughout a medical practice. A good needs analysis is necessary to determine whether one should have a wireless or wired local network, or a combination of both.
With the growth in availability of smaller, faster, and lighter wireless tablets from a wide range of manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung, and mobile phones with larger screens (the new Samsung Galaxy S3 has a 4.8 inch HD screen), physicians now have more choice than ever regarding tools that fit the mobile form factor. Wireless networks and access points have matured significantly over the past five years and bandwidth is generally no longer an issue unless one is accessing extremely large files, such as radiology images. The new Apple iPad with retina display is being used increasingly in hospitals to view images due to the high resolution screen and there have been regular reports of a soon to be released Apple iPad with a 7–8 inch screen. Sure to be a hit for physicians who do a lot of prescribing.
However, there are some important steps that you should follow if you plan to install a wireless network in your medical practice:
- Talk to your existing (on intended) EMR vendor to ensure that their EMR product works well on wireless networks and what the minimum bandwidth requirements might be. This may be your primary determinant as to whether you go with a wireless or wired network implementation.
- Wireless may be your network of choice if you are using an ASP- or cloud-based EMR. In these types of systems, the EMR is hosted outside of your practice at a remote location and is accessed through the Internet or a secure network connection.
- Unless you have a very small office space that requires a single wireless access point and you are comfortable installing it and setting up the wireless security, bring in an expert to do the installation. They will ensure that you have sufficient wireless coverage throughout the practice, install signal amplifiers (if needed), and will set up your wireless security for the maximum level of protection.
- Do not install an unsecured wireless access point in your practice that is connected to your office computer(s). Using sniffer software, it is possible for hackers to easily gain access to your system and anyone else who connects to the network within your practice.
If you are running a server in your practice, you certainly can install a wireless router, but this is something that will require consultation and advice from your vendor. Wired networks have some distinct benefits. They are fast, stable, and have high availability. They are also secure in that your practice can function as a closed environment if you are not connected to the Internet or an external network. If you are connected to the Internet, you will need to install a firewall (as you would with any wireless network). Wired networks also tend to be more costly to install initially and do require maintenance and some ongoing cost.
Have you had any experience using wireless access points in your practice? Share your thoughts by clicking on the “Comments” link below.