Keeping Up With the Mobile Revolution: UHealth Miami Goes Wireless

Aug. 19, 2014
The University of Miami and its health system, UHealth-University of Miami Health System, has begun an organization-wide wireless network upgrade to keep up with the influx of mobile devices. Already, medical professionals are noticing the improvements.

It was only a few years ago when Brad Rohrer, associate vice president and deputy CIO for IT at the University of Miami, began noticing the influx in mobile devices within varied academic, research, residential, and clinical care environments across the organization.

Knowing that the existing wireless network would not cut it, the University of Miami and its health system, UHealth-University of Miami Health System, embarked on a mission to conduct an organization-wide wireless network upgrade covering 200 buildings and 11 million square feet of the university’s three main campuses, as well as UHealth’s three hospitals and two dozen outpatient facilities. The University of Miami—which has more than 15,000 students as well as the fast-growing health network that includes more than 30 buildings—selected the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Aruba Networks Inc. for the upgrade.

Delivering organization-wide access and mobility were key objectives, as was the ability to handle an increasing density of mobile and wireless medical devices and, eventually, support a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. From a clinical perspective specifically, that meant being able to access medical information on any mobile device from essentially any place across the organization, Rohrer says.

The University has deployed Aruba mobility controllers, the Aruba 130 Series access points (APs), and the AirWave Network Management system. To date, the institution has installed approximately 2,300 Aruba APs, with another 4,000 planned over the next twelve months. They are also in the process of configuring Aruba's ClearPass Access Management System to enable BYOD, officials say.

According to Stewart Seruya, assistant vice president and chief network officer for information technology at the University of Miami, the Aruba APs handled the different hand-off scenarios that were posed – particularly in the medical environment where there are lots of wireless devices being used by the nurses, staff, and physicians –and they passed all of the stress tests. Rohrer adds that several other leading enterprise Wi-Fi vendors were considered before ultimately going with Aruba.

“Mobility is crucial for all of our institution's academic and medical staff, students and patients, and strategic to the success of the university and UHealth," says Rohrer. "We suspect that more than 25,000 devices are connecting to our network daily and we've seen peaks as high as 18,000 devices simultaneously on the network. The expectation is to keep all of these users connected reliably and without disruption, anytime and anywhere across the entire organization. The infrastructure is absolutely critical in making this happen."

The University of Miami and UHealth began a deployment schedule last year that will eventually result in the Aruba infrastructure covering its entire campus and medical facilities. First up were the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. The improvements have already been seen, Rohrer says. “Patients are able to call from the room to the nurse responsible for that room directly. And as more medical devices become Wi-Fi enabled, this network we installed doesn’t take much configuration at all from a service [standpoint]. For clinicians and folks working in medical environments, if they see a technology they would like to use in their area, Wi-Fi has become an enabler for that. It’s just been a no-brainer for us.”

Brad Rohrer

Additionally for the medical environment, one of UHealth’s key goals is to implement electronic health records (EHR) across its clinical facilities, says Rohrer. To this end, the organization just recently implemented the Verona, Wis.-based Epic System’s EHR in both the eye institute and the cancer center, with future plans to implement it in the main acute care hospital (Epic has already been deployed in the ambulatory facilities and the ER), notes Rohrer. “The physicians have already had access to Epic via their mobile client, and many have a tablet client and a smartphone too,” he says. “While those devices have been available to our clinicians for some time, we’re seeing much better performance now. Wi-Fi has now become more or less an expectation rather than an added amenity. Everything we do, we end up starting from Wi-Fi,” Rohrer says.

While the medical professionals are mostly using laptops, tablets, and smartphones, with a few desktops still around, Rohrer feels that the new infrastructure has allowed them to do whatever they want at this point. “Everyone is moving towards this concept of being able to service any device, anywhere, and having a robust and stable wireless environment is a requirement for that,” he says. “We don’t want to be focused on supporting a certain set of devices; rather, we want to support and deliver applications needed in the clinical environment through Wi-Fi.”

So far, the reaction in the medical facilities has been all positive, Rohrer adds, noting that for one of the hospitals that the health system recently acquired, the difference has been night and day. “Now they can talk to their imaging vendors, for example, using the picture archiving and communication system (PACS) technology from wherever they wanted to. Before, they were pretty much a captive audience in that sense, having to walk to certain parts of the hospital to use it,” he says.

Even as far as guest access, the health system has received feedback about the new network being a positive addition. “If you don’t have Wi-Fi available for your patients and they’re in that room recovering or there for treatments, that becomes very awful for them. Wi-Fi actually provides another outlet,” Rohrer says.  In the cancer center especially, patients are going through chemotherapy for 2-4 hours at a time with just a TV in front of them, Rohrer adds. “That’s really not enough. Wireless access helps the experience, even if it makes it just a little better. That little bit counts.”

Future plans for the academic environment revolve primarily around BYOD, where the university wants to allow students, faculty and staff to self-configure their personal devices to the network without IT involvement—while maintaining security and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements, says Rohrer.

“Having this type of network can’t do anything but help the quality of patient care from a provider perspective, regardless of the device he or she happens to have on him or her,” he says. “I think the BYOD concept coupled with a robust wireless network and structured security architecture is going to be required for healthcare to succeed moving forward.”

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