Quebec hospital explores use of wireless in health care

The Centre hopitalier universitaire de Quebec (CHUQ) is testing a wireless system that will eventually enable the facility’s 9,000 staff to work from mobile handhelds and tablet PCs.

“”We’re trying to give medical staff the ability

to go … directly to a patient’s bed and have the patient information such as blood tests directly on wireless devices,”” said Yvan Fournier, who is responsible for IT infrastructure at CHQ. Fournier is using the wireless component of the Microsoft Windows 2003 operating system.

So far, the tests have been specific to the hospital’s IT department, but they will branch out to a few floors before the summer, he said. “”Everything is working perfectly.””

The hospital’s tests come as an advisory committee to province’s health department readies a list of rules and standards for deploying wireless devices in health-care centres across Quebec.

In general, many hospitals currently ban wireless usage due to concerns about electromagnetic interference (EMI) and wireless security. In Quebec, it is currently illegal to make a wireless connection to the Quebec-hospital RTSS intranet due to security concerns.

But the committee, of which Fournier is a member, could change that. Its recommendations will focus on how wireless devices can function in a hospital setting while addressing the security and interference issues.

“”We’re working very hard . . . to implement a secure system. We’re just trying to make sure that when a hospital makes a wireless connection, they have rules to follow that make it secure. After that, they will choose by their own budget what kind of technology they will use.””

For Fournier, securing a wireless system in a hospital means placing digital certificates on all laptops and encrypting all access points so someone from the outside “”can’t stand in the parking lot or on the street and get inside the network.””

His hospital is also working with Siemens to determine how close wireless devices can get to electromagnetic equipment without threatening their functionality. Once that’s determined, Fournier will share his findings with the advisory committee.

Catherine Hajnal, assistant professor of information systems at Carleton University in Ottawa, noted that some critics question whether wireless networks are secure enough for “”hardcore use in critical organizational applications.””

“”But to a certain extent, wireless in a hospital makes sense because you never know where you might be needed,”” she said. “”You can make wireless security very tight so (access) is tied to the address on the ethernet card in the actual computer. You can add other layers of security.””

Critics argue that encryption can slow things down, she added, “”but we’re getting speeds that are fast enough that I don’t think it will impact the user that much.””

Others wonder whether some of these measures are secure enough, and if they actually make it easier to tap into the data being sent, said Hajnal.

Recent vulnerabilities discovered in Microsoft operating systems probably shouldn’t deter customers, added Hajnal.

“”If it’s not them, it’s someone else. We’d be crazy to think that any of them are without flaws. One would hope that Microsoft will continues to improve its own in-house testing and diagnosing.””

The installer has to bear a lot of the responsibility for security as well, she said.

“”There are patches and updates, and you have to stay on top of those. If you don’t, then you’re as much at fault than the software provider.””

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