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Can Your Paperless Office Go Cordless?

A physician colleague wanted to operate a completely paperless and cordless practice.  That is, his office was to operate on laptops and battery-powered devices which accessed a wireless network. This sounds like a good idea, and is – but it’s important to consider the limits of a cordless practice.wireless-puzzle

First, understand that a wireless network isn’t actually totally wireless. Something must be plugged in to something else somewhere. Also consider that a wireless system has several layers of associated expense.

You should work with a wireless consultant – preferably someone with experience installing wireless networks properly. A system that is implemented incorrectly will yield poor performance. Our practice chose to go with a Cisco-certified wireless network engineer. If you aren’t able to find someone with these rare qualifications, at least go with a consultant who specializes in network installation.

An expert consultant will use special equipment to map radio frequencies within the building. This will help to determine where to put the antennas. Our consultant’s team took several days to spread the antennas out on tripods, finally producing a map which illustrated the radio frequency overlay and a list of recommended placements.

If you plan to use cordless computers, you’ll have to use long-lasting batteries with plenty of back-ups available. Unless you’re using a special battery charger dock, this can’t be managed on the laptops. You may need to carefully plan your clinics, keeping in mind that the typical battery only holds a charge for about three hours.

Have a clear understanding of what is in your building. Is there lead in the walls? How about metal in the ceiling? These sorts of factors can either improve the signal through reflection, or degrade it overall. Are other wireless signals being broadcast in the area? Even microwaves and phones can have an effect on the signal, and most wireless networks are operating on a frequency which is on a spectrum in widespread use by other devices. The object is to prevent interference.

Be sure to keep a budget. One medical practice decided to use laptop computers connected to 24-inch monitors. This let both the patient and doctor see the monitor at the same time. However, this turned out to be costly – laptops are typically the priciest devices. Usually regular desktops are the most cost-effective solution.

Are you thinking about installing the wireless network yourself? Some network solutions on the market work well for e-mail and Internet, but might not quite cut it for operating your electronic medical records (EMR) system. There are two main reasons for this:

* Consumer wireless access points generally use a signal fixed on a higher strength than a usual laptop wireless card. This may sound good, but actually means that a laptop could detect a signal which is more powerful than it can actually return, resulting in a broken connection.

* If you require more than one wireless access point, there could be a conflict. Just walking from one side of the office to the other with the laptop could cause your session to drop, requiring another login after a possible loss of data.

Regardless of your final choice for wireless EMR implementation, make sure your team is on-board. And try to justify all purchases and keep an eye on costs. Refrain from indulging on the latest gizmos when you can – instead, stay focused on serving your patients in an efficient but cost-effective way.

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