Can Network Gear From a Superstore Save a Few Bucks? Four reasons why that’s a really bad idea.

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May 27, 2010

As the post-acute care industry grows increasingly digital, the demand for network equipment to create highly available, highly connected environments is exploding. While it may be tempting to save a few bucks by installing off-the-shelf network equipment from a local computer superstore, here are four reasons why that’s a really bad idea in healthcare.

1. Scalability

Make sure your network can grow without limitations. As you add more applications and computers, not only does the network need to grow, it must also interact properly with other devices to prevent pitfalls.

Cobbling together equipment purchased with no clear design will cause extra downtime and frustration for users. Instead, choose network equipment that adheres to healthcare industry standards to create an environment in which hardware and software work in concert.

Wide area network circuits designed for healthcare businesses are also essential as your business grows into new markets – where the network may be on wheels (as in the case of home health) or diversifying into new facility models (like transitional care units) where patients will demand reliable service, along with those caring for them.

Computer superstore equipment designed for home or small business use does not scale with our evolving industry.

2. Security

When it comes to wireless, computer security is of great concern because without engineering expertise involved, radio signals can leave one building and enter neighboring buildings.

In the healthcare world, intruders on your network put you at risk of a breach under the HITECH Act. Make sure you’re protected with proper equipment and network engineering to keep unwanted people out.

In addition, patient data and resident data running on your network must be carefully planned and secured. Network engineers can separate business users from residents/guests and protect critical business data and functions.

3. Support

The target market for off-the -shelf network gear at the local computer store is home or small businesses. Post-acute care is a 24×7 business.

This high reliance on computers to perform critical care functions means support needs to be available 24×7 to front line staff. Problems must be diagnosed and fixed as quickly as possible to get care teams back on the floor, doing the quality care on which your reputation and reimbursement depend.

To keep uptime high, make sure your network equipment can be supported remotely by your IT provider. The ability to remotely solve problems is not available with all equipment on the market, so it is worth considering from whom you purchase your equipment and how it’s configured. Sending someone to the store down the street to buy equipment and connecting “plug-n-play” may seem like the fastest way to get going, but that same equipment will take 10 times longer to support when a problem occurs. And trust us, problems WILL occur.

Qualified network engineers look at your network as a whole; the computers you’re connecting, the applications you’re running, and how the network supports your business as you grow. Make sure that your network equipment is backed by a global supplier with good availability of replacement equipment, and smart professionals to install and support it.

You deserve peace of mind when it comes to uptime. Knowing engineers can remotely dive into your network and get staff back online quickly is a sound operating investment.

4. Reliability

The best way to improve network uptime is to avoid problems in the first place. The first concern here is your connection to outside resources, typically through a private wide area network or Internet line.

Make sure your connection has circuits designed for healthcare business use vs. broadband lines designed for home or small business users. Private MPLS or Internet T1 circuits are made for businesses and your local telecom provider can help choose what’s best . These companies have support teams available 24×7x365 to deal with problems, even if the issues occur in the middle of the night or on weekends. The extra investment for a business class circuit will translate to better uptime and quicker mean time to repair.

Next, make sure your equipment is from a reputable manufacturer, with good support, and includes a maintenance plan so hardware can be replaced quickly if there is a failure. Some equipment manufacturers offer plans that replace failed hardware in four hours or less. Some business class wireless networks can even self-heal when there is a failure of one access point in a multiple access point deployment. These “smart” networks are aware of all access points. If one point fails, the others will boost power to boost coverage until a replacement can be installed.

The bottom line is that networks in the post-acute care industry are very different than those built for home or small business offices. Healthcare networks operate 24×7, and when they go down, it’s not just an inconvenience, it seriously disrupts care delivery and your reputation.

It’s worth making sure your network is designed and deployed by trained network professionals who have your unique needs in mind. You deserve networks that can scale as you grow, are reliable to limit downtime, can be easily supported  by remote engineers, and are sufficiently secure to manage both resident fun and critical clinical work.