Healthcare Thrives on Mobile First

By Mark Verbloot, Systems Engineering Director, Asia Pacific, Japan
Share Post

The opportunities for mobile health are vast, from improving the quality of care to increasing patient engagement to lowering cost. Healthcare has long thrived on innovative technology, and state-of-the-art for mobile evolves quickly.

Looking back five or six years ago, hospitals—both here in Australia as well as around the world—were building out wireless LANs to support computers on wheels (COWS), the trolleys with laptops that nurses or doctors use to enter patient data, review lab and radiology reports, check drug compatibility, or other tasks.

At the time, one of the biggest challenges was that many of the COWS end up in the same areas in the hospital at certain times of the day. Yes, the COWS would bunch up in a herd. And having so many Wi-Fi clients in one place created a density problem, and getting reliable Wi-Fi connectivity was difficult. It took some finesses, but we tackled that problem for our customers.


Doctors, nurses and other clinicians need the ability to communicate easily and instantly. But back in the day, desk phones were hard-wired and in-building cell coverage was poor, so hospitals tried something new—portable handsets that worked over Wi-Fi. It took some pioneering work to get voice over Wi-Fi to work reliably, but just as with the herd of COWS, customers could count on Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to overcome the technology hurdles. Today, hospitals use wireless VoIP as well as the full suite of unified communications tools, including collaboration and video chat.

Patient monitoring was another early use for the wireless. Patients' vital signs could be monitored remotely from the nurse's stations, and without an unsightly rats' nest of cables plugged into the wall. Today, innovations go beyond smart beds and infusion pumps to wearable devices that can continue to monitor patients for chronic conditions or factors that might cause re-admission after they've been discharged.

For each of these use cases, wireless technology advanced. Critical applications were moved to the 5 GHz band—away from the noisy and crowded 2.4 GHz band. Issues with sticky clients were resolved, and quality of service for Wi-Fi was developed. Wireless LANs were designed for both coverage and capacity, as more mobile devices were connected.

The Next Step in Mobile First: Patient Experience

But the mobile opportunity isn't just about helping clinical and administrative staff deliver better, more efficient care. Increasingly, mobile is used to enhance the patient experience.

In the early days, no IT manager would have dared mix hospital business with patient pleasure. But with today's mobile-first, enterprise-grade wireless networks, hospitals can think differently.

One such hospital system is Epworth HealthCare. It's the largest not-for-profit healthcare group in Victoria, Australia, and its known for its cutting-edge medicine and excellent patient service. More than 122,000 patients are admitted a year to its seven hospitals.

To support its mobile-first strategy, Epworth recently upgraded four of its seven hospitals to the latest 802.11ac access points. Clinical staff can use their preferred mobile devices anywhere. Network access for BYOD and hospital-owned devices is secured by Aruba ClearPass. It's a highly dense client environment—doctors typically have three mobile devices. The network supports demanding real-time applications like voice as well as clinical and administrative applications. And because its Aruba mobile-first network is applications-aware, voice and life-critical applications are automatically prioritized to ensure they always get the bandwidth they need while the network easily accommodates other applications, including patient services.

And in no time, Netflix and other streaming media services became the top applications on the hospital's network.

Patients and their families love it. They no longer have to watch terrible daytime shows on a TV suspended in the corner of the room. They don't have to consider the spots on the ceiling as an ersatz Rorschach test. With a few taps on their personal tablets or laptops, they can be distracted by their favorite shows and movies, order meals, and communicate with their nurses and doctors.

The hospital administrators were surprised that streaming media had the highest usage on the network, but I bet you weren't.

But the hospital isn't worried. With an Aruba Mobile First Platform, the hospital has the security controls and network capacity and reliability it needs. But more importantly, it has an intelligent software layer that turns connectivity into a rich experience for clinicians, administrators and even patients.

What's Next for Mobile First in Healthcare?

Building a Mobile First platform opens the door to new ways to engage patients, improve the quality of care and lower costs.

Oneview Healthcare is just one example of a healthcare innovator that Aruba works with. Oneview Health provides point-of-care access to a hospital's IT systems. It also lets patients use mobile devices to select their meals, choose entertainment, and communicate with their care team, friends and families right from their beds. Hospitals can also use it for location services for wayfinding, presence to record movement in and out of rooms, and for digital signage.

Connected devices and the Internet of Things are the next wave of innovation. Hospitals are using augmented reality technologies like Microsoft HoloLens for patient diagnostics. With a clinical application that runs on the goggles, people can visualize body parts in 3D, changing the way medical schools teach anatomy. MRI data can be overlaid on a patient being prepped for surgery, allowing doctors to more precisely target tumors.

I can see the potential of Mobile First right here in Australia. Experts across the world recognize it too, In fact, McKinsey says digital health solutions can unlock $300 to $450 billion in value. That's a lot of reasons to build a mobile first infrastructure.