Wi-Fi network quality has become a safety and security issue as the number and type of wireless medical devices—such as EKGs/ECGs, patient monitoring equipment, and imaging systems—proliferate, a survey of Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Technology (AEHIT) members by Nyansa reveals.

More than 90% of survey participants treat the wireless network as “mission critical” and view any downtime as “high risk.” Yet, fewer than half of IT departments surveyed have visibility into or control over new Internet of Things (IoT) devices accessing the network. “AEHIT members care deeply about the care and safety of their patients. Wireless biomedical devices offer many benefits, but the interconnectedness of these devices also poses security challenges that need to be addressed to provide optimal care,” notes AEHIT Foundation COO Barbara Sivek.

Fewer than 50% of healthcare IT organizations have a pro­active approach to monitoring the performance of devices critical to patient safety, the survey found. In fact, more than half of respondents said their organization does not have a policy on the use of wired or wireless network connection for devices that impact patient safety. More than half of the healthcare IT organizations surveyed support medical devices, but few have in place the means to proactive monitor them.

“The combination of device proliferation and complexity is exposing healthcare organizations to security issues that could be life critical,” the report concluded. “As wireless mobility takes hold in hospitals and single-purpose biomedical devices appear within access networks, IT leaders face new pressures to ensure the highest levels of performance, security and operational efficiency.”

One solution in the future of wireless network management could include the next-generation Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking standard with more bandwidth for wireless medical devices, reducing the risk of network overload. For instance, last month, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced Wi-Fi Certified 6 providing higher data rates, increased capacity, strong performance, and improved power efficiency compared with previous Wi-Fi versions.

The increased capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 could ease hospital connectivity problems created by many access points in locations that face wireless signal restrictions, as well as by devices that may interfere with each other, researchers say. “Wi-Fi continues to be a predominant technology for accessing the internet, with a strong history of success,” adds ABI Senior Research Analyst Andrew Zignani. “Wi-Fi Certified 6 will further escalate Wi-Fi’s role, with more than one billion Wi-Fi 6 chipsets expected to be shipped annually in 2022.”