From largescale hospitality operations to community clinics, today’s healthcare-based businesses share a universal need for effective and seamless communication. The ability for staff to instantly update and share information such as patient records not only affects service quality but also the flow and efficiency of operations..

With so much at stake, healthcare industry professionals rightly place a high priority on modernising their facility’s VoIP infrastructure with a goal to ensure seamless and hassle-free communication across all service areas and departments. However, simply selecting the most advanced voice over internet protocol (VoIP) platform often does not always translate into providing the results that healthcare workers require and expect. Despite adopting such platforms, there remain plenty of examples throughout the industry of facilities having to nonetheless grapple with dropped connections, low-quality audio and an inability to make calls that can grind operations to an immediate halt.

More often than not, these issues actually originate from a facility’s internet network, its infrastructural design and capabilities or lack thereof. What healthcare  workers may overlook is the fact that any VoIP system is only as effective as the underlying network that supports it. With that in mind, many of the common  communication challenges that facilities face are best resolved by first taking a pause to review their network’s health and performance.

Get to Know the Ins and Outs of Your facility’s Network Capabilities

Before making any decisions regarding VoIP upgrades or implementing a new system, the first step for any healthcare facility should be to perform a full-scale analysis of their current network in order to identify any potential underlying issues. The crucial service should always be used whenever feasible, as it can immediately uncover range of performance-reducing factors from a lack of sufficient Ethernet wiring to adequately cover a premises, to the inadequate installation of access points which can lead to signal disruption. With many of today’s healthcare facilities opting to deploy Wi-Fi enabled VoIP phones, the  consequences of not anticipating potential network complications can be even greater. This comes down to Wi-Fi based phones requiring seamless roaming  capabilities in order to effectively function, and a facility that has not performed the research to determine if their network can handle the increased strain can soon find themselves dealing with any number of complex, yet avoidable issues. Many network installers provide network survey services and facility operators should
certainly research their options as doing so can eliminate unnecessary headaches, costly repairs or equipment replacement later on.

Using tools that can incorporate a building’s schematics into interactive heat maps, facilities can perform a comprehensive site survey offering a visual and easy-to-understand representation of network quality throughout a facility. Significantly, a site survey can readily identify any network performance issues by location and hardware type that ensures the root cause of any VoIP issues is readily identified and without the need for any potentially costly guesswork.

Bring an End to Low Quality Communication
A VoIP system is not worth the time and effort if staff and/or patients cannot communicate clearly with each other at all times. One of the leading troubleshooting concerns of healthcare-based organizations, low quality audio issues routinely result from overstretched bandwidth capacity. If a facility’s bandwidth isn’t enough to sufficiently transmit data from a VoIP system, clear warning signs of network inadequacy can include low quality audio with choppy calls. This is because a network will automatically utilize the most reliable, yet lower-level bandwidth to maintain a connection. Choppy calls can also result from a network’s inability to transmit VoIP data packets at sufficient speeds to maintain a smooth and uninterrupted conversation.

To resolve this issue, healthcare facilities should check with their internet provider to confirm that they are receiving the requested speeds and bandwidth. A site survey can again prove useful in identifying any hardware problems that are causing a drop in performance regardless of the level of service initially requested. Another option to guaranteeing high-quality audio is to simply set aside bandwidth for VoIP communication using network prioritization. This approach can ensure that VoIP systems always receive their fair share of network resource
levels despite any number of devices or other systems that may be simultaneously connected.

Overcoming the Inability to Make Calls
Another common VoIP issue found throughout the industry is the inability to make and receive calls in the first place. This operational nightmare may initially seem like an installation issue with the VoIP system itself, but typically involves a facility’s router setup. If a facility for example, has two or more routers the issue may lie with the routers dropping critical data packets. This kind of network layout often processes protocols using an Application Layer Gateway (ALG) and Network Address Translation (NAT) which while intended to ensure better data flows through a facility’s firewall, can lead to various difficulties with VoIP.

To sidestep such challenges, facility operators should review their router network setup to make sure that ALG is not enabled and that a double NAT or two or more routers are not disrupting the flow of VoIP data.

When Some VoIP phones Function While Others Don’t
Perhaps nothing is as infuriating when it comes to VoIP as when some phone equipment works while several others seem inexplicably incapable of receiving calls or dialling out. As with the previously mentioned VoIP issues, this one can again typically find the underlying culprit being network setup and configuration. The first place to look for answers is to see if a VoIP phone’s MAC address is correctly registered. If it is, the configuration itself may be in need of an update.

If one phone works, facility staff should also test inoperable phones at the working location to see if there is perhaps an issue with the phone hardware itself. If all phones are able to function from the same location, however, this could indicate an Ethernet connection point that is malfunctioning. Facility operators may also want to follow-up with their service providers to ensure that all firmware and configurations are up-to-date.

VoIP Best Practices for Healthcare Facilities
With the most common VoIP challenges identified along with how to best resolve them, Healthcare professionals should always keep in mind the best practices to always ensure seamless and issue-free communication. In addition to network prioritisation, other options at an organization’s disposal that should be leveraged include segmenting VoIP calls by providing them with their own virtual local network (VLAN). This tactic can ensure improved performance no matter how  congested a network’s traffic may become. To provide both hard-wired or Wi-Fi enabled VoIP phones with the strongest possible connection, facility owners should also not just consider whether they have sufficient Ethernet cabling, but also if they have the right kind. If financially feasible, buildings should aim to install cat 6 cabling which can provide as much as 10 gigabit Ethernet at 250MHz.

When attempting to implement a mobile VoIP compatible system, additional performance factors may come into play as each mobile device requires strong wireless connectivity that can be disrupted by interference from other devices. To offset this potential challenge, facilities should look in to adopting Digital Enhanced  Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phones. These platforms significantly come equipped with their own signal frequency, thus sidestepping any potential interference issues that inevitably come with multiple devices also using a wireless internet connection.

VoIP systems are the perfect solution for fast-paced healthcare environments when they work as intended. Among the several benefits they can provide, healthcare workers can always rely on being able to access a line of communication whether by phone, computer or mobile app. They can effortlessly send and receive  documents or faxes, message co-workers and even video chat with patients. Yet to achieve the full benefits of any VoIP platform, time and money is always best served by considering the capabilities and implications of the network tasked with maintaining the seamless flow of communications. With that vital link in mind, healthcare  acilities can remain fully confident that the VoIp service they provide to staff and patients consistently reflects the high quality, uninterrupted experience they rightly expect.

author avatar
Jeff R. Owner
With 15 years of experience in the Wireless industry and a focus and passion in the hospitality space. Jeff Rhode has run his own team that creates and manages enterprise grade wireless networks. With properties that are as small as 10 room hotels to 5000 room resorts.