Digital technology is completely revolutionizing our experience at the doctor and dentist. Today, the average visit to an orthodontist looks completely different from just five years ago. While Novocain and braces are still an important part of the dental toolkit, the diagnostic process has become increasingly sophisticated. For example, 3M just came out with an intraoral scanner—basically a wand—that can be swiped inside a dental patient’s mouth and relay video data to a tablet. This updated approach to making digital dental impressions provides clinicians with better visibility and allows patients to observe the results on a tablet. This digitized experience is just one example of how advanced healthcare technology is changing the way healthcare providers interact with patients.
While these devices provide better treatment and a more interactive patient experience, they generate significant amounts of data on the back end and often require reliable 24/7 connections to strong networks. This means healthcare providers who want to offer modern, high-tech treatment options to their patients must invest in their underlying IT infrastructure. Without a fast, reliable in-office network, these technologies fail and patients become frustrated. Could the right network be the missing link in successfully adopting the newest healthcare technologies?
Emerging Trends in Healthcare
Here’s a closer look at some of the latest emerging trends that are shaping healthcare today:
Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearables: The Internet of Things is influencing healthcare far beyond ubiquitous fitness trackers. eMarketer predicts that by 2020, healthcare IoT spending will top $163 billion. Healthcare organizations are using the IoT internally to speed up the transfer of information—including more efficiently sharing records, gathering patient healthcare data via wearable monitors, and keeping track of vital medical inventory. However, as hospitals become “smarter” in terms of their technology, these IoT devices will generate significant amounts of data and will need adequate bandwidth to maintain consistent communications. As eMarketer notes, “Primed to use fitness wearables and smartphone apps, people are growing more comfortable with new types of sensors that capture and analyze their health and medical data. It will only be a matter of time before this information is seamlessly integrated into larger healthcare systems to make their care more precise and efficient.” Available network bandwidth will be critical to delivering this at scale. While many organizations focus on adding routers and switches, it is important that the underlying supply of bandwidth is available to maximize this vision.
Updated Diagnostics: New advances in advanced imaging and updated diagnostic tools are creating new avenues for patient care. For example, the dental wand described above saves significant time and provides more detailed diagnostic information for both the patient and professional in record time. Many healthcare tools generate a significant amount of data and rely on connection speeds and reliability for optimum performance.
Hospital Room Personalization Amenities: As healthcare providers continue to experiment with different approaches to improving the patient experience, one hospital is using digital technology to give patients more control over their stay. Later this year, Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare will debut rooms that include tablets. According to an interview with US News, the tablets will allow patients to adjust the temperature in their room, call a doctor or nurse, or access customized information about their diagnosis and treatment.
Hotel-Like Amenities in Hospitals: In addition to personalization tablets, healthcare organizations are increasingly upgrading the patient experience in other key ways. The Cable and Telecommunications Network for Marketing has noted that healthcare facilities are increasingly investing in in-room amenities like HD video and WiFi to improve the quality of patient stays. Hospitals, private practices and other healthcare facilities are facing the reality that patients want to be connected—even when they’re receiving healthcare—and facilities must have a clear plan in place to deliver fast public Internet access. What’s more, this must be done without compromising treatment delivery that relies on available network bandwidth. As more healthcare facilities debut these technologies at scale, high-speed Internet will be critical to delivering the promised customer experience—without slowing down the broader hospital network.
Electronic Patient Communications: As patient care becomes increasingly complex, electronic and cloud-based patient communications are becoming the norm. Electronic healthcare records are stored, accessed, and shared with different providers in a single click. For example, a primary care physician might meet with a patient for a physical and refer them to physical therapy, a psychologist and an orthopedic surgeon. Each of those providers would need appropriate access to the patient’s information, images and other details. In addition, the patient herself might want to access her health record through a secure patient portal. Enabling today’s patient communications requires both significant Internet speeds and data storage.
Considerations for Bandwidth
When determining your bandwidth needs—especially over time—it can be helpful to evaluate a series of questions:
- What innovative technologies are you using or do you plan to introduce for diagnostic or treatment purposes? How much data do they generate? To what degree do they rely on accessing data to function properly?
- How will delays in exchanging information or accessing these tools impact bottom-line scheduling or the patient experience?
- Do you have plans to introduce new technologies focused on upgrading the customer experience, such as in-room coffee or systems, expanded video capabilities, or WiFi?
- Based on the volume of treatment you currently provide—as well as your future growth projections—how many devices are you likely to need to support with your network? These can include both in-house clinical devices and smartphones, and tablets which patients are likely to bring with them.
- Consider a mix of public and private network connections. When designing your WiFi configuration, provide dual-band streams that separate compliant patient health information from public Internet traffic provided for patient convenience. Ensure visibility, control, and performance in the transmission of mission-critical patient information.
Choosing the Right Network for Your Office
Today’s leading healthcare tools—from high-end scanners to software that allows plastic surgeons to immediately show different options to patients—generate significant amounts of data. As a result, healthcare practices and hospitals need strategies in place for strong computing power and secure data storage. However, without the right amount of network speed, these tools may be slow, or not even work at all.
The frontline decision many healthcare providers face begins with choosing what provider they will use to deliver network connectivity throughout their office. Three priorities healthcare organizations need to weigh when choosing a network solution include:
1. Reliability of the Network
Hospitals and other healthcare settings can’t allow there to be a gap in service. Reliability is a critical concern; equipment that’s required for diagnosis and treatment must always be connected. The quality and reliability of your network plays a crucial role in that process.
Security is paramount in the healthcare technology world, from connected systems to wireless devices. One area of concern in this environment is IoT devices. The network that those devices are connected to needs a high level of security to assure the organization is remaining HIPAA compliant. Before a healthcare organization can adopt the latest technologies, it’s crucial that it ensures the underlying network can deliver safe operations. Ask your provider where HIPAA/HITECH compliance begins and ends. For example, your network may be compliant up to your WiFi connection, and then become open to public traffic. Ensure end-to-end compliance over both wired and wireless connections.
Network performance is also crucial for the successful adoption of new technologies. Speed is only one component of that. In addition, to optimize performance, it’s important to have a “smart” network that can distinguish between voice, data and app traffic—and prioritize these traffic flows according to the organization’s needs. Your network is only as fast as your slowest link. Choose a network provider that can manage your connectivity across all network endpoints.
It is possible for healthcare practices to offer more high-tech treatment options by investing in the appropriate level of bandwidth for the right applications. Dedicated and secure bandwidth is essential to the successful implementation of new treatment options, can improve productivity, lead to happier patients, and more. Take a strategic approach to your infrastructure development by exploring the underlying network speeds needed to maximize the value of specific medical technologies.