Medical center balances network needs

Feb. 2, 2010
Carl Labbadia, Grove Hill Medical Center's IT director, had to deal with critical and secure transmissions like patient information and diagnostic data. Network performance was a primary concern.

Grove Hill's new cabling infrastructure supports both its bandwidth and flexibility needs in a single solution.

A common dilemma for IT professionals is selecting a network infrastructure that can offer future-proof support of the organization's most bandwidth-intensive applications and users without over compensating for less speed-critical connectivity needs. A healthcare organization could install multiple channels of varying cable types and performance levels or, as Connecticut-based Grove Hill Medical Center did — choose a single cabling solution.

Grove Hill Medical Center offers services ranging from routine check-ups to the latest diagnostic imaging. Home to more than 70 physicians, Grove Hill covers 19 medical specialties, including cardiology, oncology, orthopedics and radiology, as well as housing administrative and patient-service offices. When Grove Hill began the upgrade to its network cabling infrastructure, it did so with a wide range of network applications, users and challenges in mind.

Like any facility dealing with critical and secure transmissions, such as patient information and diagnostic data, network performance was a primary concern. Beyond just current needs, Grove Hill was focused on supporting future performance requirements.

“Just five years ago, from our radiology department, we might transfer 10-12 DICOM radiology images per day,” says Carl Labbadia, IT director. “Now, we process 150-200 per day and those files are getting exponentially bigger with better imaging technology. Today's 16-slice CAT scan can generate a 2,000-image, 2-gigabit file and tomorrow's will only grow. Network speed and bandwidth are critical to real-time transfer and analysis in the medical field and the cabling needs to be ready to support it.”

While the bandwidth-intensive diagnostic applications posed a performance challenge, the equally important administrative office and patient room connectivity supplied their own set of considerations. At Grove Hill's current levels, these areas and applications do not require the bandwidth supplied to the imaging facilities. Instead, flexibility was the prime concern.

“In an internal study, we found that 25 percent of our four network technicians' time was spent running new cabling channels to deliver additional services to expand staff capabilities and improve patient experience,” explains Labbadia. “This could be a new phone or video feed in a patient room, a data connection in a treatment room so that a physician can review treatment options on a laptop, or just a new printer at the front desk. Running a new channel every time was not only time consuming and disruptive, it made efficient infrastructure management pretty challenging and had the potential to overwhelm our pathways.”

High-speed cabling selected

Ideally, Grove Hill's cabling infrastructure would support both its bandwidth and flexibility needs in a single solution. It was able to achieve this with Siemon's Category 7a TERA cabling solution.

Offering bandwidth of 1,000 MHz, the Category 7a solution more than met Grove Hill's current diagnostic-imaging requirements. It supports speeds in excess of 10 gigabits per second, while providing additional headroom for future advancements. Category 7a utilizes fully shielded cable, known as S/FTP, in which each individual pair is wrapped with a foil shield, along with an overall shield around all four pairs. The individually shielded pairs virtually eliminate crosstalk between pairs within the same cable and, in combination with the shield braid, provide superior noise immunity versus unshielded cable.

The TERA connector maintains cable shield integrity and noise immunity into the outlet through a quadrant design that isolates each pair within the interface. This standards-based design fits within an RJ-45 footprint and can be integrated into RJ-based equipment via hybrid TERA to RJ patch cords.

In addition to enabling high-speed data transfer, the combination of fully shielded cable and the interface also provides a unique solution to Grove Hill's need for flexibility in addressing frequent moves, adds and changes within its less-bandwidth-intensive applications. Through “cable sharing,” up to four applications can be supported over a single Category 7A cable and outlet.

The standards-accepted practice of cable-sharing is made possible by the connector's four-quadrant design, which allows easy access to individual channel pairs via hybrid patch cords, combining 1-pair, 2-pair and 4-pair TERA-style plugs terminated to appropriately wired RJ-45 or RJ-11 Ethernet plugs. This capability allowed Grove Hill to support a variety of application combinations in a single channel.

A future-proofed network

“Cable sharing is solving an ongoing challenge for Grove Hill,” explains Labbadia. “In the end, we are focused on patient needs and delivering services that enhance patient care. But predicting what services we will need in the future has always been difficult. With a TERA channel, we have a one-to-all capability. If we need a phone in a patient room, a TV, an Ethernet connection so a physician can review treatment information with patients — we already have the connectivity in place. We just plug in a patch cord.”

The design and installation of the system was managed by ASI, a Siemon-certified installer and overseen by Grove Hill's IT team. Working with Siemon's technical services group, a TERA cabling-system design was implemented that precisely matched connectivity to application, function and user.

Grove Hill's imaging and other bandwidth-intensive diagnostic areas utilize full 4-pair Category 7a bandwidth to handle current and future file-transfer needs. Each patient room is supplied with one TERA channel to manage potential connectivity needs through cable sharing.

Already, Labbadia and his team are taking advantage of the flexibility, adding phones, video and data connections on an as-needed basis. Two channels were added to physician offices, one for large diagnostic files and the other for flexible support of voice, printers and video. In the administrative offices, three drops were provided to every two-employee workstation, typically supporting two computers at 100 Mbps, two analog phones and a printer — leaving five pairs (or one full channel and one pair) open for future needs.

The combination of fully shielded cable and the interface provides a unique solution to Grove Hill's need for flexibility in addressing frequent moves, adds and changes within its less bandwidth-intensive applications.

“Between the TERA product benefits and the support from ASI and Siemon on developing a design to take advantage of those benefits, we installed a cabling infrastructure that lets us better leverage technology for the patient,” says Labbadia. “Both behind the scenes and in ways patients can readily see, the performance and flexibility of our cabling system will help improve our level of care for years to come.”

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