Meaningful Use for Hospital Wi-Fi


Every time I talk to one of our hospital customers, I hear about meaningful use. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for incentive payments for hospitals that adopt a certified Electronic Health Record (EHR) system and are meaningful users of certified EHR technology to improve patient care.

Meaningful use has three stages, which can generally be thought of as follows:

  1. Collect the data
  2. Use the data
  3. Show that care has improved

It strikes me that this same paradigm can be applied to the "meaningful use" of high performance Wi-Fi / WLAN in a hospital, university or other enterprise. EHR is driving the use of Wi-Fi throughout hospitals. First came mobile computers on carts with Wi-Fi connections, and now doctors and nurses are filling the airwaves with tablets as part of the BYOD movement.

In Stage 1, you collect data to understand how the Wi-Fi is performing. The more the data can reflect the end-user, application layer perspective, the better. It does no good to collect measurements at the RF layer if you can't correlate that with what is happening with applications.

Once you collect the data, Stage 2 asks that you use the data to understand what's working, what's not as well as the areas that need immediate attention. It helps if the data is organized in key performance indicators with thresholds defining good and bad.

Stage 3 requires improving the network and elevating the productivity of everyone using it. This Wi-Fi optimization process is only practical if you can make changes to Wi-Fi network parameters based on the data that has been collected and organized, and if you can see the effects of the changes on network performance.

According to Jennifer King and Julia Alder Milstein in their Health Affairs Blog article from late last year, two-thirds of U.S. hospitals have achieved Stage 1 of meaningful use and the majority of these hospitals are on their way to Stage 2. To achieve success all the way through Stage 3, high performance Wi-Fi networks will need to be reliable and in place every day because in order to deliver the best patient care, doctors and clinicians will need instant access to patient information using the devices they know make them most productive.