Beyond Infrastructure

Oct. 1, 2006

Small community hospital sets its sights on the future with big-time network development.

Since 1951, Hancock Regional Hospital has provided Hancock County, Ind., with the services of a full-service regional hospital, a focus on primary and secondary care, and patient comfort and convenience. Because of a progressive board, medical staff and associates, and the strong support of the community, Hancock Regional Hospital can provide a wider range of programs and services than most community-based hospitals of its size.

Small community hospital sets its sights on the future with big-time network development.

Since 1951, Hancock Regional Hospital has provided Hancock County, Ind., with the services of a full-service regional hospital, a focus on primary and secondary care, and patient comfort and convenience. Because of a progressive board, medical staff and associates, and the strong support of the community, Hancock Regional Hospital can provide a wider range of programs and services than most community-based hospitals of its size.

In addition to the 106-bed hospital, Hancock Regional has remote sites that require a connection to the hospital. An Extreme Networks infrastructure connects physician groups in seven locations to the hospital, while a wellness center, a remote clinic and two off-campus physicians’ offices are all connected to the hospital via fiber. Hancock Regional also has connected an affiliate’s headquarters, Hancock Health Network, which is housed in a building also occupied by physician offices, an immediate care unit and occupational health center to the hospital, with fiber. Even the hospital’s parking garage security system is connected via fiber.

“When we created our network infrastructure, we needed increased bandwidth to support all the users on our network and throughput for advanced applications, such as voice-over-IP (VoIP),” says Dan Allee, technical specialist. Subsequently, when Hancock Regional expanded its campus with an addition to the hospital’s neighboring professional building as well as a new hospital wing and wireless capabilities, it again looked to Extreme Networks for networking services.

Expansion Creates New Network Demands

As the community’s healthcare needs grow, so does the hospital. In fact, in 2005, an addition was added to the hospital’s professional building and a new hospital wing opened. To handle the increased number of users, increased data traffic and additional VoIP services that will be deployed, Hancock Regional upgraded its network core to include the BlackDiamond 8810 switch from Extreme Networks. The two-tier architecture and high-performance BlackDiamond 8800 series switching solution delivers true voice-class availability.

The two-tier architecture enables the hospital to build an open converged network that can easily accommodate new applications while achieving “five 9s” availability and better levels of security in a simple design. “We have higher levels of availability, redundancy and Power over Ethernet ports to help ensure that the critical needs of our hospital network are consistently met,” says Allee. The two-tier network architecture requires fewer network layers and switching elements, and helps result in a lower total cost of ownership. The two tiers of the network architecture consist of a Unified Access tier and an Intelligent Core tier.

Wireless for Everyone

Hancock Regional also selected Summit WM series wireless switches and Altitude access points (APs) for unified access. Today, wireless access is available throughout the hospital for use by doctors and staff as well as the public.

Hancock Regional created two access domains, one for public use and one for internal use. Visitors to the hospital can access the public, nonencrypted wireless network in all public areas of the hospital, and now the hospital can meet visitors’ more frequent requests for Internet access. Access is also available in two professional buildings and the Wellness Center. The new wireless access is part of the hospital’s Patients First initiative, a customer satisfaction program designed to improve the patient experience while in the hospital.

Hancock Regional’s private network is secured from rogue AP devices and peer-to-peer networks using Altitude 350-2 APs and Summit WM’s spy capability, which scans multiple bands and channels for intrusions, and reports its findings on the management console.

“Our new wireless network has become a valuable resource for everyone,” Allee says. “In fact, the public’s use of our wireless access has exceeded our expectations. It’s more popular than we ever anticipated. Instead of being an amenity or convenience, wireless access has become a requirement for healthcare facilities.”

The wireless network supports several applications, including MEDITECH for all clinical areas and accounting. Hancock Regional also hopes to leverage its new wireless capabilities in the future with wireless phones, enabling doctors and hospital staff to have one phone number on which they can be reached. Adding the phones will be easy and efficient, as Hancock Regional will simply create another access domain for the phones.

Extreme Networks’ wireless QoS solution maintains the correct traffic priority from client to destination. Over the air, latency-sensitive traffic is given priority transmit access using either the SpectraLink Voice Protocol (SVP) or 802.11e Wireless Multimedia Extension priority management. Then, before the APs tunnel latency-sensitive traffic to the switch, it adds a high-priority Type of Service (ToS) field to the tunneled packet. Finally, the Summit WM switch maintains the ToS field setting when the traffic is delivered to the enterprise LAN so that the traffic priority is maintained at every step.

Managing the Healthcare Needs of a Region

Based on Gigabit Ethernet, the Extreme Networks solution offered Hancock Regional a simplified approach to network management and administration, including the ability to perform either Web-based or command line administration. All Extreme Networks switches on the network share a consistent hardware, software and management architecture.

“The installation and management simplicity of the wireless platform was one of the features we really liked,” says Allee. “Once you get the WM configured, adding an AP takes less than five minutes. If we add wireless phones, we simply create another domain.”

Hancock Regional also has deployed VoIP on many of the phones on the network. By taking advantage of the primary ISDN trunk lines in the hospital to run all of the phones in the physician practices, VoIP provides cost savings to the hospital without a noticeable difference in phone functionality.

“Real-time applications such as voice and PACS demand stringent QoS assurances,” says Allee. “In a healthcare environment, we can’t afford degradation in performance or latency.” Hancock Regional uses the vendor’s Networks Policy-based QoS capabilities to meet the demands of real-time voice, video and other delay-sensitive applications with enforceable bandwidth and latency guarantees. Network managers can define minimum and maximum bandwidths per traffic type, ensuring that higher priority traffic is marked and treated with higher priority than less important ones. With its current infrastructure, and taking advantage of the vendor’s 24/7 technical assistance program, Hancock Regional also has the ability to leverage real-time services, such as telemedicine via video to one of its clinic locations.

In all, Allee says Hancock Regional is now prepared to achieve its mission: “To be a caring community partner dedicated to enhancing the health of the patients and communities we serve.”

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