The Question Remains Relevant

by Mark Wechsler | Arrow Systems Integration

A hospital asked us a question last week that hadn’t come up in quite some time. They wanted to know if VoIP was being adopted by healthcare providers and if it was really the “way to go.” They asked if the majority of solutions we delivered to their peers used VoIP or if TDM and analog were being deployed. The question surprised me a little because I can’t remember the last time anyone broached this topic. I think it has been at least 2 years, and possibly longer, since this had been a common concern.

We are, unfortunately, unable to offer estimates regarding the percentage of VoIP, Digital (e.g., TDM), and Analog services that we are deploying in today’s healthcare market. We simply don’t track the statistics. However, we can state with confidence that new installations are dominated by the use of VoIP. Digital is a distant second. Most facilities that rely primarily on digital service are actively working to renovate their infrastructure in support of more modern VoIP transport services.

It is important to note that we rarely deploy (VoIP) systems for healthcare providers without some digital telephony for disaster and backup purposes. Analog services are being used only in those instances when dial tone and extremely inexpensive endpoints are in order.

Our experience in deploying VoIP, for healthcare providers in particular, differs from that of other industries. Healthcare provider facilities are often unique in several key areas, all of which impact the design, use, and implementation of VoIP services. These areas include:

  • Older building structures (e.g., metal lathe and plaster walls) and cable plants (e.g., Cat 3 cable and older) making it uneconomical to fully renovate and upgrade to modern cabling plant systems.
  • Limited IDF / wire closet space, power and HVAC necessary to support VoIP active electronics
  • Insufficient IDF locations to address IEEE 802.3x UTP cabling (distance) standards.
  • Reliability and resiliency requirements (e.g., 99.999%) uptime required of the 24×7 healthcare provider
  • Administration and technical resources required to assure backbone QOS services

For these reasons, it can be financially prohibitive and technically impractical to “force” the use of VoIP. As a result, Arrow SI has adopted a practical approach to the design, deployment, and implementation of modern communications systems for healthcare providers. Our approach is to recommend and deploy hybrid systems consisting of:

  • VoIP where you can – due to modern construction, the ability to economically assure a high level of reliability, and the backbone infrastructure (e.g., IEEE 802.3 physical, MAC, Network, and Transport) is capable of handling VoIP services.
  • Digital where you must – for absolute reliability (e.g., 99.999%) to be used for emergency purposes and extreme instances in which a segment or the entire network backbone fails. Also to be used in those cases where modern cabling and active electronics required for VoIP are impractical or unavailable.
  • Analog when appropriate – for applications in which extremely low cost, simple dial tone is all that is and will be necessary, such as in patient rooms and some public areas (e.g., parking garages.)

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