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Lowell General Hospital Optimizes Wireless Communication and Tablet PC Use

Motion Computing Mobility Services team designs state of the art wireless network 

The Background:

Lowell General Hospital is an independent, not-for-profit, community hospital serving the Greater Lowell area and surrounding communities since 1891. The hospital encompasses ten buildings, the latest state-of-the-art technology and a full range of medical and surgical services for patients, from newborns to seniors, including: The Regional Center for Maternal and Pediatric Care, in partnership with Tufts-NEMC Floating Hospital for Children; The Cancer Center; and The Heart Center.

The hospital includes 221 licensed beds, 38 bassinets, and two satellite locations including the Women's Imaging Center in Chelmsford, and Lowell General Chelmsford, which houses The Surgery Center, Patient Service Center, The Center for Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery, the Tufts Floating Hospital for Children Pediatric Specialty Center, and a host of physician offices.

The Challenge:

Lowell General Hospital needed a quality wireless network design that would support highly mobile devices -- such as Motion Computing® tablet PCs and SpectraLink phones -- to operate continuously and without interruption. Clinicians’ tolerance for network drops and interrupted user sessions is extremely low.

The LGH campus includes primarily older brick buildings with solid concrete internal walls, like many hospitals. This construction is a challenge for wireless network implementation and access point site planning, as signal strength must remain consistent throughout a building to maintain a network connection. IT staff at the hospital had been reporting wireless connectivity issues while trying to deploy an EMR software package from Cerner Corporation. LGH also needed to provide wireless local area network (WLAN) coverage and adequate bandwidth for voice over wireless (VoFi) operations using SpectraLink phones.

Using Motion™ LE1600 Tablet PCs, LGH was preparing to roll out an enterprise patient care software application to run wirelessly, and simultaneously add 175 new tablets PC’s in order to provide access to the applications over the wireless network.

The Solution:

LGH contracted Motion Mobility Services to enhance and validate the hospital’s network; supporting its objectives for quality, mobile patient care.
Motion Mobility Services worked closely with LGH IT to detail project deliverables, including a comprehensive wireless site survey, interference analysis, radio frequency (RF) modeling, access point (AP) placement design, as well as post-implementation coverage and throughput test plans for post-installation validation of the design.

LGH was experiencing massive RF attenuation with its solid concrete and brick construction throughout the hospital. These materials weakened RF signals. Motion’s coverage testing and spectrum analysis showed sources of interference and the location of many dead spots in the existing RF coverage plan.
Working with LGH IT staff, Motion built a wireless network design model for the hospital around the core principles of:

  • overlapping coverage,
  • client/station roaming without disconnects,
  • maximum available bandwidth,
  • channel planning,
  • load balancing for access points,
  • dual radio access point usage for 802.11a and 802.11b/g,
  • and VoWiFi performance and coverage assurance.

The Results:

The result was a design plan that enabled LGH to build out a robust wireless network that will expand with the hospital’s growth and addition of new technologies. Because RF interference is significantly lower on 802.11a networks versus 802.11b/g options, Motion moved the tablet PCs LGH uses to access the hospital’s electronic medical records applications to that frequency. The hospital reserves its 802.11b network for guest access and VoWiFi systems that do not have 802.11a radios.

Working closely with LGH network engineers, Motion Mobility Services provided detailed coverage modeling designed to provide enough radio bandwidth on all frequencies so that all 802.11a/b/g networks will provide excellent coverage for LGH staff.

Working closely with the LGH networking team, Motion Mobility Services also analyzed the design of the backend wire-line based infrastructure and discovered some design issues that were contributing to the poor performance of the wireless network. When LGH staff applied the Motion design to correct these issues, the wireless network performance improved considerably.

Motion Mobility Services also worked with LGH staff to identify locations for future access point placement and provided a design and coverage map for all areas in the hospital.

Lastly, a review of the existing access point locations was also conducted. The result was additional cost savings for LGH by simply moving or adjusting existing access points.

“We chose Motion to help us understand the use of the tablet devices and implement our wireless plan so that we had the best connectivity possible,” said John Goodrow, chief information officer of Lowell General. “We recognized significant improvements by doing testing along-side Motion to dial-in specific location of access points and channels to avoid interference with other devices. Their expertise positioned Lowell to be successful with a hospital-wide wireless project and made implementation go smoothly.”

By partnering with Motion Computing Mobility Services, LGH staff was able to mitigate a challenging RF environment and provide mission critical applications and VoWiFi services to the entire hospital. As a result, LGH now has a mobility-optimized wireless environment that provides for a high level of patient care and significant ROI in the LGH patient care environment.