Free Wi-Fi has become an expectation akin to water out of a tap or jelly at the hospital canteen.
People want to be connected at all times, says Deon Myburgh, Mediclinic’s ICT operations manager. But this was not the only reason why Mediclinic decided in October 2016 to roll out free Wi-Fi across all its hospitals in South Africa. From an operational side, Wi-Fi through fibre networks lays down the groundwork for a ‘smart’ hospital.
Sometimes it’s the little things that hospitals do for their patients that make all the difference to the quality of their stay. With the free Wi-Fi at Mediclinic hospitals, patients are now kept occupied because they bring their own devices and can stay in touch with the outside world. ‘A patient from the UK landed up in a Mediclinic hospital far away from the support of her family and her mood was low,’ says Deon.
‘The Mediclinic staff provided her with a tablet and connected her to the Wi-Fi network so that she could Skype-call her son in England. It was very emotional for her, and it gave her the motivation to get better.’ We asked Deon Myburgh a couple of questions about Mediclinic’s decision to implement free Wi-Fi.
What was the thinking behind the free Wi-Fi?
In 2012, we realised we needed to put Wi-Fi in our hospitals for a number of reasons. Firstly to provide doctors, patients and guests with internet access, but also to use the Wi-Fi for our medical devices and other efficiencies within the hospitals. We made the strategic decision that we wanted to own the airspace in our hospitals.
At the time the cost of the network was a limiting factor and it was common practice to charge for Wi-Fi, so we were only able to offer free access to doctors. In a very short space of time, with the increased prevalence of the “Internet of Things” (where smart devices such as your Fitbit connect you to the world in different ways), the demand for free internet access increased.
Then bandwidth became very competitively priced, and we were able to provide free Wi-Fi to all our patients and guests by laying down our own fibre cables. Opportunities have since arisen to connect mobile medical devices to our Wi-Fi network, such as mobile patient monitors and mobile C-arms, as well as enabling time synchronisation of clocks within all Mediclinic facilities. Patients can now check in with their friends and families through Skype or WhatsApp, using the available voice-over Wi-Fi services.
Isn’t it risky to have medical equipment relying on Wi-Fi?
The frequency that the Wi-Fi access points utilise has no impact on medical equipment, as it operates on a completely different frequency to cellphones and other equipment. The medical devices also store the information in a local buffer, in the event of losing connectivity. The Wi-Fi architecture for medical devices is very specific and designed in conjunction with the medical device provider and medical communication is completely isolated on the network as a protective measure.
Is it easy to access the free Wi-Fi at Mediclinic?
It couldn’t be simpler. Upon your arrival at one of our hospitals, all you need to do is connect to the “MCGUEST” (or guest) WI-FI, type in your cellphone number to register, and you’ll be sent an OTP via SMS, which will serve as your password. This account can then be used during any future visits. Please note that registration may need to be renewed from time to time.