By Andrew Maier
We’ve long since passed the time when cellular connectivity was just a nice perk. In today’s world, it’s an absolute necessity — especially in hospitals, where cutting-edge technology plays a critical role in patient care and disease prevention.
Of course, hospital machines aren’t the only ones using wireless technology. Personal use accounts for a lot of the cellular load. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center indicates that 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone and 51 percent of the public owns a tablet computer. Everyone from physicians and staff to patients and guests are tapping into the local network to stay connected.
The problem is that the cellular networks supporting these devices were primarily designed for voice coverage. As we’ve shifted toward greater data usage, these now-overloaded networks struggle to keep up. This is especially true in areas with dense populations such as hospitals.
An unreliable network is frustrating. At a hospital, however, it can be downright dangerous. That’s why it’s essential to consider potential connectivity issues when planning a new hospital construction project.
Retrofits will always be more expensive and time-consuming than a solution that’s integrated while the project is still being designed. Minimize issues down the line by considering these three things during the planning and construction phase:
Don’t Assume Cellular Coverage Will Be Adequate
It’s easy to take wireless connectivity for granted. But when it comes to new construction, carrier service isn’t guaranteed. Depending on where the hospital is located and how it’s laid out, cell coverage can vary greatly. Plus, hospitals have lots of technology traffic. When you have thousands of physicians, patients and employees all trying to check charts, upload documents to the cloud and communicate with loved ones at the same time, you’re bound to get cellular gridlock. Having a strong cellular network helps support communication between these groups, leading to improved patient satisfaction and better clarity for physicians and employees.
Consider the Materials You’re Using
Sometimes, it’s the building itself that’s the culprit. That’s why it’s essential to discuss potential building material alternatives with your architects early on. Hospitals can be constructed using materials such as metal, aluminum and concrete, all of which can block cellular signals.
Unfortunately, eco-friendly materials can also hamper connectivity. One of the most common “green” building materials used is low-emissivity glass, or “low-e glass.” This type of glass is coated with a special material that blocks heat waves to reduce energy usage — and cell signals.
Lay a Strong Foundation for the Future
New facilities represent a significant investment, so it doesn’t pay to be short-sighted. By installing adequate infrastructure during construction, you’ll spend at least 30 percent less than you would on a retrofit solution.
Rather than strictly planning for the technology that’s needed now, you should also allow for future flexibility. For example, many medical facilities are currently moving to the cloud, and others have started to integrate “smart building” technologies. Even if it isn’t something you need now, it might be something that’s desired down the road.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to make connectivity consistent throughout your building is to employ a distributed antenna system (DAS). A DAS is a network of antennas that connects to a mobile network carrier and provides dedicated wireless cellular service for a specific area, such as a building. The antennas are usually affixed to ceilings throughout the building, providing coverage for 5,000 to 25,000 square feet per antenna. DAS solutions are ideal for hospital campuses because they can boost signals in buildings constructed of materials that might otherwise block connectivity.
It’s always going to be easier — and less expensive — to install a wireless connectivity solution in a new building than in an existing one. For one thing, installers can enter the construction zone without fear of disturbing anyone. Plus, by assessing the building’s connectivity needs early on and identifying an appropriately cost-effective and flexible solution, you can sync the installation and construction teams’ efforts. This ensures the optimal, discreet placement of antennas, as well as instant connectivity as soon as construction is complete. So, when you’re planning your next hospital project, make sure to keep connectivity concerns at the forefront of your conversations.
Andrew Maier is vice president of Emerging Technologies at Burr Ridge, Ill.-headquartered WIN, the leader in DAS solution development for mid- to high-rise buildings. In his role he focuses on applications and technologies that use Internet access to improve building-wide communication and efficiency.