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Building Your Office Network Infrastructure

It doesn’t matter if your practice is just a single doctor at one location, or numerous physicians across multiple satellite offices. Either way, even before you can implement an EMR system, you’ll need to start by developing your system infrastructure.welder.jpg Although typically a contractor will take care of the network wiring for your office network, it is still a good idea to be familiar with some issues related to network wiring as well as terminology so you don’t get taken advantage of. Consider using a contractor who has been certified by the Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI), as this certification is the standard for contractors who deal with complex data and voice cable installations.

Some of the specific issues with which you should be familiar include:

Wiring: Typical Cat5e network wires have either a T568A or T568B standard. Select either, and be sure everything is wired to the same standard. The Cat6 wire standard is newer and more expensive, possibly a bit much for most medical practices. Copper wires between telephone communications closets shouldn’t contain segments over one hundred meters. Consider using fiberoptic cable for wiring over longer distances, as these cables can move more information and aren’t as vulnerable to interference and lightning. Fiberoptic, however, is more expensive.

Wireless: Are you considering wireless networking, also known as WiFi? If so, you will have to select a standard: either 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11h. Some newer standards provide higher data transfer speeds, but cost significantly more. The wireless standard that you choose should depend on whether you’re running a thin or fat client ( see Designing the Office Network for more about thin vs fat clients. Also, beware of interference from such common devices as cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Overwire: Most existing buildings are wired above the ceiling. Wiring is then dropped down the walls. When wiring, I would recommend ‘double drops,’ as the largest cost of wire installation is the labor. You will thank yourself later when you want to add more network devices (scanners, printers, diagnostic equipment, etc.), as these additional network connections will already be there.

Cooling: Network and server equipment create heat, and tend to shut down when over-heated. Plan for this by being sure that you have adequate cooling – you may want to consider installing a small, dedicated air-conditioning unit.

Electrical connections: It’s a  standard IT practice to have a certified electrician install isolated circuits for your network and servers – usually the outlets are orange so you can tell them apart.

Security: Don’t forget about security! Make the wiring closet secure, and remember that anyone with access to this closet can dismantle your network at any time.

Multiple locations: You’ll have to create a WAN, or wide-area network, to make a connection between remote office locations, so do your research and check out all your options. Larger metropolitan areas will generally have more options available for wide-area networks.

Fiber Backbones: Local utilities commonly maintain a fiber backbone which they allow businesses to access. These fiber backbones allow for high bandwidth rates between office locations (10-100Mbps) at a reasonable cost.

Local Phone Service: Meet with your local telephone sales people and service technicians. They understand the offerings in your geographic area. Some of the key points to discuss are:

  • T1 lines: would a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) or a Point to Point (PTP) be better?
  • Inquire about both burst and committed information rates. A fast T1 connection may not cut it if the maximum isn’t available when you need it most.
  • Will the phone company supply you with and maintain your router hardware, or will you need to take on this task yourself?

The costs of network infrastructure are much lower in new buildings. Apart from easier (and less costly) installation, the ability to oversee the network wiring in a building under construction is an advantage for clear design. Unfortunately, the majority of practices are located within existing buildings, so sound design and forethought in planning will help save your practice excessive costs and headaches later.

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