Security concerns overhang wireless LAN's entry into Europe's hospitals, warns Frost & Sullivan

London 27 November 2002Wireless and mobile client device technologies are beginning to make their presence felt in the European hospital environment. Rising awareness of their potential in enhancing productivity and efficiency standards at the point of care is likely to promote their expanded deployment. However, niggling data security issues will have to be addressed before full growth potential can be achieved, according to a recent Frost & Sullivan study.

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The protection of confidential information including medical data and patient records is a key concern for health care facilities. Accordingly, vendors will need to dispel the widespread perception of wireless local area network (WLAN) not being a secure medium by demonstrating to prospective customers in the health care industry that the data transmitted on their networks will be secure.

"Here, the United States Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations on patient confidentiality will help in a direct way as they set a benchmark that forces the suppliers of wireless technologies to prove that their technologies protect patient data. This will have benefits in Europe, as the major suppliers to the market are the same in both regions. There is also the possibility that equivalent rules would be adopted in Europe", noted Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst, John Gilsenan.

Today, WLANs have moved into the mainstream and are successfully deployed in several industrial sectors. With hospitals also trialing WLAN technology, the stage has been set for more widespread implementation. Case studies attesting to the multiple benefits accrued through WLAN usage will be invaluable in promoting greater interest in, and support for this technology in Europe's hospitals.

"Successful case studies will be particularly useful in reducing fears about the lack of security of wireless LAN technology and the absence of interference with other wireless equipment. Another benefit, judging by the United States example, has been the measurable savings in time and effort on the part of medical personnel as well as the automation of many paper-based, often tedious, tasks", added Mr. Gilsenan.

Indeed, one of the principal drivers of the market for WLANs in hospitals will be its potential for greater productivity and mobility. Streamlining internal communications, eliminating the need to duplicate records, as well as ensuring accuracy and reliability in documents such as prescriptions have all contributed to wireless technology's image as a productivity enhancer.

Mirroring trends in the United States, the IEEE-recommended 802.11b standard is expected to become the preferred transmission technology in the European hospital arena. As a globally accepted standard, there is increased probability of its early adoption by hospitals, a sector that has been conservative in its uptake of new technologies.

Global acceptance of wireless technologies has been conflated with technological progress. For instance, anticipated developments in WLAN technology, such as the move to 5 GHz, is expected to stimulate keen interest in the potential of WLAN as a tool for enhanced operational efficiencies. Indeed, greater bandwidth capability with the accompanying facility for greater transmission speeds and the ability to deal with large file sizes like images such as X-rays is expected to boost market expansion.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the market for WLAN infrastructure technologies in hospitals in Europe was estimated to be worth $12,29 million in 2001 and is projected to soar to $92,27 million by 2007. Here, 5 GHz products that are expected to become commercially available in 2003 are anticipated to represent the highest growth sector of the market.

Technological advances in mobile client device capability will fold neatly into developments in wireless infrastructure technology. An increasing number of mobile client devices that have in-built WLAN-access capability will make them "wireless enabled" from the outset, thereby circumventing the need and expense for add-on cards. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) and pen tablets, in particular, are expected to find widespread use in conjunction with WLAN in a hospital setting.

There are high expectations surrounding Tablet PCs with pen-based capabilities. "The device can replicate forms and documents that are commonly used in the hospital environment and these can be written on the tablet PC by medical personnel. In this way, the device will allow new methods to be used, but with the least disruption to how people worked previously", explained Mr. Gilsenan.

The wireless implementation services segment is forecast to increase from $9,26 million in 2001 to $56,36 million by 2007. Site survey and security requirements aimed at optimal deployment of WLAN are likely to impel hospitals to avail of external service providers. Growth will be further stimulated by the mounting realisation among IT service vendors that health care is a potentially lucrative target for wireless technology.

"Ultimately, wireless technology should be viewed as a complementary piece of a greater whole, that of seamless information transfer between care area and care provider. In this capacity, it can greatly enhance the clinical and administrative work flow in certain critical areas within the hospital setting", concluded Mr. Gilsenan.

The study on wireless local area networks for the hospital environment is available by contacting Mrs. Katja Feick of Frost & Sullivan.


Leslie Versweyveld

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