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November 30

Healthcare IoT and the Need for Reliable Connectivity in Hospitals

The Internet of Things is growing fast and will reach its tentacles deep into nearly every industry. Gartner analysts are predicting that by the end of the year, there will be 8.4 billion connected things worldwide—a 31 percent increase from 2016—and that the number of devices will jump to 20.4 billion by 2020. Businesses and consumers will spend almost $2 trillion on endpoints and services in 2017 alone.

The healthcare industry is primed to take advantage of IoT. It is driving everything from remote monitoring capabilities to smart devices that will send patient health data to hospitals to the myriad connected medical devices throughout the healthcare facilities. It is allowing doctors to deliver health care remotely, communicating with patients through video conferences, and enabling patients to more easily stay in touch with their healthcare providers.

In a recent Zinwave-conducted survey, 2017 Office Communications Trends, we found that while employees from a wide range of industries are increasing their use of cell phones at work, those in the healthcare industry had the highest percentage of use. More than 62 percent of healthcare workers use their cell phones for external communications every day, and 61.8 percent use them to communicate with their colleagues on a daily basis.

IOT and mHealth is changing how we think about connectivity

Connected devices that make up IoT are changing and improving the ways healthcare facilities can deliver care to their customers, how customers are participating in their own healthcare and how doctors and other healthcare providers are doing their work inside of a hospital or healthcare facility. And, this trend is forecasted to grow. Zion Market Research analysts said in a recent report that the worldwide mHealth (mobile health) market will grow from $11.47 billion in 2014 to $102.43 billion by 2022 -  increasing at a 32.5 percent annual rate between 2016 and 2022. Park Associates are predicting that by 2019, 60 million households will participate in wellness tracking and virtual care.

IoT is critical to connected health, including how it’s provided and consumed, how patients will pay for it and the costs involved in its delivery. In the past, doctors had to wade through paper records, but now, they have that information easily accessible on tablets. Patients who had to travel long distances for routine doctor visits can now have many of those visits done over the internet through video conferences. Patients can wear connected devices, such as heart or blood sugar monitors, that can transmit data directly back to healthcare providers, allowing them to easily monitor patients’ conditions.

Hospitals can operate more efficiently by being able to keep better track of medical devices and ensuring they are placed where they are needed most. The benefit is that it will reduce the amount of time spent on processes and tasks that are done manually. All of this is possible with IoT helping to drive the trend toward connected health.

Reliable connectivity is critical for IOT connected devices

But it will do little good without reliable cellular connectivity within the hospitals and other healthcare facilities. After all, the IoT is made up of connected devices. If the cellular signals inside the building are spotty, all of those connected medical devices, systems and sensors will be for naught; if that happens, patient health and safety is put at risk.

Ensuring reliable indoor connectivity is possible with the use of a distributed antenna system (DAS), which is crucial for hospitals, which are notoriously unfriendly environments for wireless devices. Such facilities are rife with wireless signals that come from the many life-saving medical systems housed inside, and hospitals must ensure that those signals are free from interference. In addition, hospitals tend to have walls that are denser than other buildings, making it more difficult for the cellular or WiFi signals from cell towers or wireless networks to reach all parts of the facility.

The optimal DAS solution can help alleviate many of those challenges and ensure reliable in-building connectivity is provided. The right system will offer a fiber-only solution in which fiber optic cable is used throughout, from the head end to the antenna. Installation of such all-fiber systems is easier, costs less than those that primarily use coaxial cables and is less disruptive to a facility’s daily operations. The system should be carrier-agnostic and support the full spectrum of carrier and public safety cellular frequencies on one hardware layer, rather than have a solution that only supports a single set of frequencies which will need additional hardware and installation for future needs. Hospitals, like other businesses, need an infrastructure that is ready to support technologies that are still on the horizon. The devices that are used to communicate in a building are changing rapidly, and as more “things” connect to the internet, a solution that is ready to bring them onto the network and into the building is required.

IoT and mobility have made deep inroads into the healthcare industry, and their presence are rapidly growing. Reliable cellular connectivity in hospitals is no longer a nice thing to have; it is a necessity.  As in other industries, a robust cellular signal means more efficient operations and better access to the massive amounts of important data being generated every day. However, in a hospital, it’s about much more than just data—it’s potentially life and death. Doctors rely on getting the right information when they need it. Medical systems need to stay connected, and patient data must be available and secure. Patients’ lives depend on it.

Mobile signal interference is a real concern in healthcare. A distributed antenna system can help eliminate it. Learn how in our white paper.

 

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