How Banner Health Boosted Its Network Reliability

Scott Mace, March 17, 2015

Hospitals are ill-equipped to own and operate their own cell-signal-extending equipment inside their facilities. The right network service provider can get the job done and raise reliability to carrier-grade levels.

Wi-Fi has been an essential element of information technology infrastructure for nearly 20 years, but in the quest for ever-more-reliable IT, healthcare organizations are opting for in-building cellular networks which increase uptime and could possibly save lives.

It wasn't that many years ago that hospitals banned the use of mobile phones inside hospitals, initially out of fear that they would interfere with everything from delicate medical equipment to someone's pacemaker. Many of those fears were overblown, but over time, interference among devices seems to have been lessened by smarter embedded radios, coupled with a diminishing number of reports of interference.

Users flat-out demanded to use their cell phones in hospitals. And just as over time, it has become OK to use mobile phones upon landing and while taxiing to the airport gate, mobile phone restrictions in hospitals gradually evaporated.

The question then turned to how to get stronger cellular signals in those areas of the hospital where reception was poor.

"Hospitals are great big thick dark facilities with areas that have lead-lined walls and steel mesh and all sorts of things that are just the ultimate enemy for a cell phone," says James Plugfelder, senior director of IT, network, and communications at Banner Health.

This can pose problems.

"A good example is an obstetrician who's got a mother that just about to give birth," Plugfelder says. "It  could be now, could be next day, but she's already in the hospital, and he's sitting in a meeting room having a conference, and the mother goes into distress, and they reach out to his cell phone, and it doesn't work, because he's in a basement conference room, and they can't get a hold of him. That's actually a real story, and those are the things that my team is all about—humans and devices communicating with each other."

In order to improve service in basements and heavily shielded areas, hospitals had to think well beyond the capacity of the neighborhood's local cell towers. But gone are the days when some slap-dash, in-building cellular signal-booster could perform this task, in hospitals or in any building, for that matter.

Scott Mace

Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.

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