Hospital Wifi a Work in Progress

I’m relatively optimistic that we will see significant progress towards wifi in hospitals becoming the norm in the not too distant future, particularly as recent NHS announcements seem to be indicating an exploration of allowing the public (or “patients”) to access wifi across the whole of the NHS estate. There have been some conflicting messages on this, with some suggestions that the wifi ambition is limited to staff access. But I believe it will not stop at that.

That doesn’t mean we need to be complacent, as one of the big issues is that the autonomy of individual institutions makes it next to impossible to mandate common procedures across what is a massive organisation. But I am confident the tipping point will soon be reached when it becomes an anomaly that a hospital lacks free patient wifi, such that public pressure will cause the laggards to come to the party.

Around a third of NHS hospitals (and virtually all private hospitals) in the UK now have patient wifi. And despite the doom merchants and the gatekeepers, nothing bad has happened. I still come across the old arguments about patient wifi interfering with equipment (as if patient wifi is a different flavour of wifi to that used by staff), being expensive to deploy (not true), or offering a backdoor route into compromising patient confidentiality (can anyone point me to an example of this happening?). If any of these arguments were true do you not think there would be a story about them in the Daily Mail every day? There isn’t, because it doesn’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen in the one third of hospitals which have patient wifi, why should it happen in the other two-thirds? And you can also bet the the private hospitals which have patient wifi have done it for reasons concerned with patient satisfaction.

Being cut off from regular contact with the outside world is a significant stress factor when you are in hospital. Patient wifi thus has a therapeutic benefit, and to deny it is to delay people’s recovery. Thus, it is probably true that lack of patient wifi is costing the NHS in terms of longer stays in hospital.

I’ll be testing some of this out myself shortly as I embark on the DigiWards project. In the mean time, if you haven’t already, please join the Campaign for Free Hospital Wifi, use the #hospitalwifi hashtag on twitter, and help us keep up the pressure.

4 thoughts on “Hospital Wifi a Work in Progress

  1. I like your optimism John and it would be great to see this happen. However, there will probably be concerns about security to overcome (which most other organisations can manage) before it is rolled out to patients. I’d be interested to see what progress is made.

    • Thanks, Ben. As I said in the post, a third of NHS hospitals already have patient wifi and i have heard of no security issues

  2. The security isn’t a concern: so long as patient/public wifi is outside the corporate firewall that’s not an issue- it is trivial to keep public wifi seperate from medical/corporate systems with a fancy enough access point, a bit of VLAN working, and sensible config. However, saying deployment isn’t expensive? Really? Good wifi is not cheap, and cheap wifi is shit. Good, capable access points are still £400-500, never mind the backhaul costs. I’ve done guest wifi over a medium-sized site that works well, but, critically, it is reusing hardware and connectivity that the main corporate business supplied- if this were not possible the cost would be many, many times higher- the bits that are unique to the guest system are open source, free software and recycled hardware. That may not be acceptable in the NHS, and existing hardware may or may not support it. A glance around my local NHS hospital shows a good amount of hardware that won’t. Wifi is not a simple technology to deploy well, the very fact that it involves radio makes it potentially hard.

    I’d also make the point that most people have 3G data these days- prices have dropped a lot.

    • Thanks for this. My point is is that it is not as expensive as some make out.

      On the 3G front, there are a lot of people who have cheap PAYG phones with small or no data plans. Also, it is not possible to get a data signal in many hospitals, either because of the hospital location, because of the building construction, which can block signals, or because the Ward is in a basement.

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