Staying Ahead of Mobility Trends

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How one organization is taking advantage of 802.11ac, tablets, and mobile robots to advance its wireless capabilities.

Houston Methodist isn’t your typical healthcare provider. The nonprofit organization has been recognized as the best hospital in Texas by U.S. News and World Report, thanks in part to its cutting-edge tools, treatments, and research. Furthermore, physicians at Houston Methodist are continually sought out by international patients in need of specialized procedures.

Perhaps the only thing as advanced as Houston Methodist’s medical capabilities is its wireless strategy.

“Everything is becoming wireless,” says Armand Stansel, director of IT Infrastructure Services for Houston Methodist. “Not just phones and tablets, but IV pumps, glucose meters, and temperature monitors.”

Being a leader in innovation, Houston Methodist has been well ahead of the wireless curve:

  • The organization has implemented a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) program and radio-frequency identification (RFID) initiative, supported by a robust Cisco 802.11n wireless network and the Cisco Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS).
  • The hospitals are using thousands of Cisco voice over IP(VoIP) phones, and the Wi-Fi network can support 10,000 concurrent devices with more being introduced all the time.
  • The IT team tests three to four devices every week to verify whether they meet Houston Methodist’s wireless and security requirements.

“It’s not just the number of devices, but the uniqueness of the devices we are testing and utilizing,” Stansel says. “You need a solid infrastructure to support all of these user and medical appliances effectively and securely.”

Tapping 802.11ac, 4D Imaging, and Robots
With a robust technology infrastructure in place, Houston Methodist is taking its Wi-Fi capabilities to the next level, aiding its clinicians and patients in new ways.

“Having confidence in our network,” says George Stefanick, wireless architect for Houston Methodist, “has allowed us to consider a number of cutting-edge applications and devices.”

  • Houston Methodist’s cardiology and radiology departments are using tablets to show high-definition 3D and 4D images at patients’ bedsides. In the past, these large files had to be viewed in a dedicated conference room through wired connections, often when a recovering patient could not be present.
  • Houston Methodist is also employing mobile robots—fully controlled via Wi-Fi—to help physicians do their rounds. With a camera and video screen, the robots facilitate face-to-face communication between patients and clinicians. This has been particularly useful for the hospitals’ telemedicine program, which serves patients in rural areas.

“While others are still figuring out their network, we’re utilizing 4D imaging and mobile robots,” says Stefanick. “Advanced technologies are bringing our clinicians closer to their patients, even if they are hundreds of miles apart.”

  • The hospitals are using a variety of collaboration tools—including Cisco Jabber and Cisco WebEx—to work with patients and other healthcare facilities overseas.
  • Houston Methodist is also an early adopter of 802.11ac, which delivers exceptional bandwidth and capacity. Hospital leaders see the new technology as a natural extension of their 802.11n network, helping free up airtime in high-density areas like conference rooms, cafeterias, and emergency rooms.

As they expand their Wi-Fi capabilities and explore progressive applications, both Stansel and Stefanick are ever mindful of network security and patient privacy.  

“We take security very, very seriously,” says Stefanick. “Cisco ISE [Identity Services Engine] has been a key enabler for us. It gives us multiple checks and verifications for both users and devices, and allows us to model the traffic in ways that meet our strict security requirements.”