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4 Tips to Figuring mHealth Into Healthcare Construction Projects

Put digital health at the top of the planning agenda before the mortar hits the brick, says one IT expert. And don't skimp on the outlets.

By Eric Wicklund

- When configuring mHealth or telehealth into a health system renovation, expansion or new construction, it’s important to remember one rule.

Make sure you have enough power outlets.

OK, that may seem a bit simplistic, but many health systems fail to take in the power requirements of a digital health ecosystem when they’re building or renovating. Never mind the smartphones, tablets, laptops and computer stations – what about connected devices at the bedside, or RTLS systems, or communications hookups with other offices or hospitals?

And of course, all these connected devices generate heat, and need to be cooled down.

“Anything that’s diagnostic these days is connected up,” says Mark Johnson, CEO of MedNetwoRx, a Dallas-based provider of healthcare IT services. “Whether it’s capturing images or capturing numbers, it doesn’t matter.”

Healthcare is evolving, and not just from a technological standpoint. The nation’s hospitals are growing out of their brick-and-mortar shells, and needing new facilities, whether they be brick or wood or steel or anything in between. A hospital that was built back when the rotary telephone was the standard of communications needs a whole different design.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, says Johnson. The old adage that about 5 percent of a hospital’s revenue stream going back into IT way be a little bit outdated, but a properly planned construction or renovation project can be economical as long as IT concerns are identified and addressed at the beginning, rather than after the walls are put up.

“Pay attention to the back-end stuff,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot of naivete in healthcare these days,” in that everyone looks at the new halls and rooms and lobbies and landscaping and MRI machines and fancy crash carts, but very few look at how each department uses bandwidth or whether an EMR platform can be accessed safely and securely without messing up a doctor’s text messages or a patient’s Facebook page. “It’s not sexy, but it’s important.”

“Look, you don’t want to throw cold water on some really cool stuff that could help people,” he adds. “So plan ahead. Do everything up front.” Figure in connectivity, broadband, power and mobile device management while the project is still on paper.

For those health systems mixing up the concrete and laying out the drywall, Johnson offers a few pre-construction checklist items:

  • Start with security. Make sure the new facility can be locked up tight – and not just physically. Keep all networks that carry and store sensitive data separate and secure. Separate clinical services and access from consumer services and access, so that a kid playing Angry Birds on his smartphone or tablet isn’t tapping into the EMR. And give telehealth its due: create secure portals so that the hospital or clinic can communicate and share data with outlying offices and clinics.
  • Account for wireless as well as wired devices. Use secure, cloud-based storage, design plenty of places for staff and visitors to charge their wireless devices, and make sure those wireless devices work flawlessly not just in the ER and OR, but in every nook and cranny of the building. In short, create a mobile device management protocol, perhaps even an MDM position or department.
  • Separate clinical and non-clinical functions. mHealth technology shows up everywhere in the health system these days, from RFID systems that trace equipment and people to automated food, gift shop, laundry and janitorial services. Even maintenance services can be managed remotely. Make sure clinical applications don’t cross paths with back-end services, so that the HVAC system isn’t tapping into the EMR and the OR physician isn’t accessing Netflix.
  • Power up. Figure out how much power (and heat) all of these devices and departments will generate – and plan for more. As with planning broadband coverage or data storage, it’s better to have too much capacity than to run short, especially when a patient’s life may be at stake. 

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