Some hospitals provide wireless access at the bedside, checkout--and everywhere else
Driven by market pressures and patient satisfaction demands, some progressive hospitals have begun providing bedside wireless Internet connectivity.
"The patient population has become more computer literate," says Bruce Robison, executive information technology director for CoxHealth, based in Springfield, Mo. , which launched a wireless service for patients in February. "Wireless networks meet a growing need for patients and families to access the Internet for communication, work and entertainment."
Bronson Healthcare, Kalamazoo, Mich., installed a wireless local area network throughout its campus last year, including free wireless access for patients and visitors.
"Free public Wi-Fi 'hotspots' across the entire campus allow patients and visitors to surf using their own wireless-enabled devices," says Milton McClurkan Jr., Bronson vice president and CIO.
Wireless devices are available for checkout for patients who do not own their own, he adds.
"Family members who must endure long waits while visiting patients are asking if they can use their cellular phones, blackberries or laptops," says industry analyst Luis Taveras, a partner of the Health and Life Sciences practice of Accenture, Chicago. Satisfying this need can be a competitive advantage for hospitals.
While Internet access has become a mainstream expectation, most patients still don't expect to find wireless networks in hospitals and typically don't arrive prepared to use them.
"This is not a trend yet," Taveras says. "Right now, the marketing edge only affects repeat patients."
Taveras also doesn't foresee hospitals getting into the business of loaning or renting wireless devices. "Hospitals have enough trouble renting telephones and televisions," he says.
For hospitals moving toward wireless services, network security is a top concern, particularly that sophisticated hackers could use the wireless network to tap into patient records and other files. CoxHealth is trying to diffuse the situation by using two different systems, CoxGuest for patients and CoxDocs for clinicians, who use it to access patient data. A virtual local area network allows the systems to share infrastructure resources while providing both secure and open access.
Taveras believes that once cost and security barriers are overcome, wireless patient-based technologies "can provide hospitals with new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition."