By Patrick Chown
Everyday hospital operations are performed with the help of digital tools; modern hospital operations do not rely on pen and paper to manage information. Indeed, solutions such as clinical imaging systems, PACS, and electronic medical records are some of the essential digital tools for a modern hospital.
Additionally, hospitals need desktops, laptops, workstations on wheels, and other smart devices to ensure a smooth flow of information. All modern tools and gadgets require a communication network for the transfer of information. In addition to core digital tools for a hospital, other facility requirements like kitchen, laundry, HVAC, and patient entertainment require reliable communication networks.
Networks in a Hospital
Communication networks in hospitals power the various digital tools used throughout the facilities. The network includes wired and wireless network connections to hook up various endpoint devices. Hospital operations rely heavily on these communication networks, and they should ensure they have a secure, strong, reliable, and easy-to-use network.
- Secure: The data that flows through the network and data that is stored on endpoint devices should be safe. The network infrastructure should not have any unauthorized access.
- Strong: The requirements of your organization requires a minimum speed and bandwidth for smooth operations. The network should be able to handle that.
- Reliable: The network should not have any interruptions or outages that could negatively impact hospital operations.
- Easy to use: Connecting to the network and accessing data should not be cumbersome. For mobile devices, connections need to automatically switch between Wi-Fi routers.
With these requirements in mind, the following sections cover some of the major considerations and best practices to follow while networking a hospital network.
The network design is important in making sure all the endpoint devices in every location of a hospital have suitable network access. The placement of repeaters, routers, switches, and hubs depends on the network design. Before designing a network, hospital leaders need to assess the requirements for the network. They have to determine the endpoint devices and the type of network connection required.
The assessment of bandwidth and latency should also be done. The future requirements from the network also have to be projected before finalizing the network design. The design should accommodate all the present and future requirements of a hospital. To have the best possible design, hospital professionals should engage with network installers that have experience in networking hospitals.
A hospital has multiple departments with different stakeholders. As a security practice, it is advisable to have multiple private networks for the hospital rather than a single cohesive network. Each department or each floor can have a different private network.
This helps in three aspects:
- Security: When there are fewer devices in a network, it is easy to monitor data transfer and anomalous activities. Private networks are closed to limited people and areas. This makes it more difficult to attack them.
- Reliability: A hospital will have multiple private networks. Even if one of the networks goes down due to some contingency, the remaining networks will be up and running. The problems will be limited to small areas, making the use of multiple private networks reliable.
- Performance: Network congestion is not a problem when the hospital has multiple private networks. The smaller number of devices can enjoy better speeds and latency.
Hospital networks carry sensitive information, especially patient data. Hospitals need to ensure they have the best cybersecurity practices in place to prevent any form of data exfiltration. Hospitals need to have private networks, firewall protection, and multi-factor authentication to prevent cyberattacks.
Hospitals need regular monitoring of network activities to detect anomalous activities. If any anomalous activities are detected, they’ll need to investigate the root cause and rectify the problem. It is advisable to conduct penetration testing regularly to ensure the security posture of a hospital.
Advanced access control ensures that only authorized personnel and authorized endpoint devices access the network. There should not be an open network in a hospital where sensitive information is handled. To ensure maximum security, advanced access control protocols have to be in place.
Hospitals need to implement security protocols depending on their requirements and limitations. Hospitals can also implement time-based access limits if that use case is pertinent to their requirement. Access control also means that authorized personnel and devices should not face any difficulties in accessing and using the network.
Hospital Network Environment
A hospital network installation will have multiple routers, structured cabling, and optical fibers across the hospital building. These network infrastructures should be in enclosures to ensure that no external party can mess with the network.
Only authorized network professionals of the hospital should be able to access these device installations. The enclosures should have proper ventilation to dissipate heat. The room which houses network servers, hubs, and switches should be air-conditioned to prevent dust and for heat management.
Network installations incur a significant capital expenditure. The hospital networks need to have a long life for the network devices to gain the most returns on the spent capital. Maintenance of network components is key to achieving that.
Clean the devices and their enclosures regularly to prevent dust accumulation. Update firmware and apply patches regularly. Medical networks should also replace the parts and devices according to the timeframe recommended by the OEM and network vendors.
Hospitals rely on digital infrastructure for operations. With the use of blockchain and modern technologies in the future, the reliance on communication networks will increase. The major concern hospital leaders need to have in mind is having a secure and reliable infrastructure.
Patrick Chown is the owner and president of the network installation company, The Network Installers. The Network Installers specializes in network cabling installation, structured cabling, voice and data, audio/visual, commercial WiFi, and fiber optic installation for industrial and commercial facilities.