Anand Oswal: Weaving Wireless Technology into a Location Fabric

Patient experience is a primary focus of healthcare organizations. When new patients arrive, the typical hospital campus environment is terra incognita to them: Where do I register? How do I get to the lab? Where is my doctor? It’s already a stressful time—feeling lost just adds to the anxiety level even before testing and treatments begin.

Staff efficiency is also high on the list of priorities. Who’s next in line for the lab? How long have they been waiting? What tests do they need? Is the necessary equipment available in the right place, at the right time? Where is the closest mobile diagnostic cart?

Innovative healthcare organizations are deploying a wireless location fabric to guide patients and staff to destinations and track locations of medical equipment. Wayfinding and location tracking are significant steps in the journey to healthcare digitization that can change how patients and staff interact as well as improve the efficiency of medical device use.

What is a Wireless Location Fabric?

A patient-care facility already has the infrastructure for location services if the installed Wi-Fi access points incorporate hyperlocation antenna arrays. While the primary function of Wi-Fi access points is to provide wireless connectivity for data traffic from computers, tablets, phones, and medical equipment, the access points can serve double duty for implementing location services.

By leveraging a granular wireless infrastructure with client-enabled location tracking, medical equipment with physical BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) or Wi-Fi beacon tags can be monitored and pinpointed anywhere on the campus covered by the location fabric. Access points can also generate Points of interest (POIs) that act as virtual guideposts for wayfinding apps on mobile devices, obviating the need for installing and maintaining physical beacons everywhere in the campus. Weaving together Wi-Fi access, hyperlocation, and POI creates a location fabric for monitoring and connecting people, devices, and equipment.

Think of the wireless location fabric as a network overlay that continuously feeds telemetry on activity around each access point to apps and network management consoles. A location fabric enables a patient visiting a facility for an X-ray, for example, to be guided by a custom app on their phone to the next available lab. Once the scan is complete, image and patient data flow through a secure wireless channel to the patient’s electronic medical record, which can be instantly viewed by the patient’s doctor on a mobile tablet. Beacon-tagged medical equipment can be quickly and accurately tracked, even on the move.

Data, Location, and Security Woven Together

Any discussion about networking in healthcare environments must include notes on data security and privacy protection. A properly architected location fabric based on wireless access points provides a platform not only for location and proximity awareness but also secure communication channels among all end-points and back-end systems. By applying principles of network segmentation to keep sensitive patient data separate from, say, guest internet traffic, it’s easier to be in compliance with privacy regulations by restricting access to patient data and keeping track of access to electronic medical records for audits.

No Need to Add Technology Layers

The main lesson from these examples is that with the right wireless infrastructure in place, you don’t have to purchase and deploy a separate technology layer to reap the benefits of location services. With wireless access points that have hyperlocation built in and network management for placing points of interests and controlling data security, you have all the elements you need to create a campus-wide custom location fabric to improve patient and staff experience.

Anand Oswal is senior vice president of engineering, enterprise networking business, at Cisco.

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