Structured Cabling in Healthcare Facilities and TR-42.1

By | May 21, 2023

Gartner’s Inc. independent research had shown that as much as half of network problems in the healthcare industry are due to an inadequate or substandard cabling infrastructure.

The network infrastructure represents the backbone supporting most IT functions. Today’s healthcare centers’ networks need to accommodate not only an enormous volume of data generated by the modernizations that technology brought to medicine but also need to comply with regulatory standards.

Telecommunications Industry Association’s (TIA’s), TR-42.1 Engineering Subcommittee formed in 2004 a task force group with the mission of bringing awareness within the healthcare industry of the benefits of having a comprehensive strategy for structured cabling design and installation that is unique to this industry. Most seasoned structured cabling contractors are aware that TR-42.1′s developing guidelines. These guidelines are meant to assure that telecommunications infrastructures for the health-care industry are adequate and universal.

Some of the areas covered in the guidelines TR-42.1 are listed below:

  • Voice, data, video network infrastructure cabling, (i.e. security alerts and surveillance, CCTV, and CATV);
  • Professional, patient and asset information systems and tracking;
  • Remote consultation/telemedicine, diagnostic imaging, digital transfer of X-rays, pharma applications;
  • Mobile applications including nurse call and patient monitoring;
  • Bio-analytical systems, clinical equipment monitoring, lighting control;
  • Fire and life safety systems, (i.e. alarms, sprinkler systems, Master clock);
  • Public network; and others;
  • The cabling infrastructure is critical in designing networks that are flexible, fully integrated and accessible. In today’s healthcare environment Ethernet networks that are IP-based are most suitable to provide the transmission of the large quantities of healthcare related data in a rapid and accurate manner. They support the many applications such as voice, data, video, monitoring and control.

    Transmission speed and bandwidth are important factors that determine a “high performing” network. Having a robust network infrastructure is more than a mere necessity. In healthcare facilities a network that fails can lead to far bigger problems than poor network performance, it can be life threatening. Gartner Inc. research firm concludes that “The wiring plant is arguably the most important part of the network. Spend the time and money to ensure that what is installed will be able to support the environment well into the future. …”

    Considering that hospitals are built to last for more than 50 years the cable plant needs to be built to perform adequately for its lifecycle of about 10 years. Gartner research has shown that cabling infrastructure represents a very small percent of the IT designated resources (around 2%-5%) yet it can account for up to fifty percent of the problems. This demonstrates that an incremental increase in cabling investment can lead to an exponential increase in network performance, robustness/reliability as well as productivity and patient safety, patient safety being a major driver of the healthcare facilities network design.

    Given these statistics hospitals in North America should project and plan for the total cost of ownership of the network infrastructure over its expected lifespan, rather than initial installation costs as well as consider hiring contractors that comply or exceed the TIA’s TR-42.1 guidelines.