Is Your Care Home WiFi Fit-for-Purpose?
Two recent surveys reveal that WiFi is top of the agenda when it comes to lifestyle priorities for those looking for a care home. This wouldn’t be so startling if it weren’t for the fact that most homes don’t offer WiFi: only 1 in 5 does so.
Care home residents now rate WiFi as “more important than having a garden.”
The Housing Learning and Improvement Network (LIN) published findings in a survey carried out by Silk Road in its article ‘Older people shun pools and spas in favour of Wi-Fi and greenery when it comes to retirement living’.
In its survey of 200 people aged 70+, it sought to find out what older people want and need in their retirement living arrangements, to help assist decision making in building retirement homes.
“Lifestyle facilities were ranked as very important or quite important by 85.7% of respondents.” Said Silk Road managing director, James Fenner. “Of those, fast WiFi/broadband topped the list of what’s important, as the internet continues to provide a way for tech-savvy older people to engage with the rest of the world. Respondents ranked its importance as 7.68 out of 10, while gardens came a close second (6.69 out of 10), followed by the availability of local transport service (6.33 out of 10).”
The Daily Express reported similar findings in a survey by housing provider Anchor, which found that WiFi is one of the most significant factors in selecting a retirement home.
Critical for Both Residents and Management
Care home WiFi should meet both residents’ needs – including their family visitors – and the demands of ‘technology-enabled care solutions’ (TECS) which will inevitably become standard in care homes as advances in ‘person-centred’ care and wireless technology explode and costs reduce – as seen in SeniorConnect’s The Connected Care Home owner’s guide.
Citizen’s Advice claims that only 16% of care homes have WiFi. This is a staggering statistic, but one which will surely change within the next 12 months – not least because SCIE chair Paul Burstow has called for WiFi to be installed in every care home and this at a time when the Health Minister is promoting a technology drive in care homes.
Before care and nursing homes rush to install broadband, they may wish to take stock as to what features they should have. Getting it wrong may be a costly mistake.
But as with many technological advances, it can be a minefield trying to balance between features and value for money.
WiFi Issues to Consider for a Care Home
So what factors should a care home consider when looking to install a WiFi network? What are the variables? How much does it cost to set up?
Coverage of internet access is vital. Your residents need to be able to access the internet wherever they are within the premises, not just their room or apartment, but in common areas and in the garden too.
WiFi is distributed across the care home via little boxes called ‘access points’ which receive the signal via cables. Each of these access points needs to be carefully placed, so you get consistent coverage with no black spots. They also need to be set on the correct channels, so the signals don’t clash. And then there are routers, modems, repeaters, extenders, mesh networks and boosters. Which do you need?
A fit for purpose care home WiFi network, such as SeniorConnect, will monitor all these access points and manage them in terms of connectivity, channels and fault detection.
Speed is essential, as any ‘gaming’ youngster will tell you. If care homes are to thrive, they need to involve and encourage residents’ families to visit and having reliable, extensive WiFi will draw in grandchildren, as care minister Caroline Dinenage recently highlighted: “WiFi actually can encourage your grandchildren to come and visit. Because they will sit there, and you can do something together,” she said earlier in 2018.
While your broadband contract determines a network’s internet bandwidth speed, if the internal WiFi is not set up correctly, rates can be drastically reduced, and you’ll be disappointing residents and their families, disrupting critical wireless care apps and wasting your investment.
WiFi operates over channels, and this can be a minefield for the uninitiated. They are subject to interference from other devices, can overlap and cancel out, and cause all sorts of seemingly invisible havoc and consternation for users and administrators.
And then all sorts of factors can affect the care home’s WiFi radio signal strength. The building itself: bricks, a wooden door, concrete, a water tank or other electrical appliances. And the number of devices consuming bandwidth will also impact on the reliability. How do you balance bandwidth between residents’ leisure activities and critical telehealth services?
Your WiFi provider should ensure that bandwidth is reserved for specific uses, such as nurse call alerts; internal staff communication; care and vital sign monitoring and residents’ leisure activities, and a guest network for visitors.
Finally, your provider must convince you that WiFi security is state of the art and that they are protecting your online world from external threats and hostile interference.
Tailored for the Care Home
There is a range of choices for WiFi provision, but having a WiFi product that’s geared towards the care home, and from an installer experienced with care homes, is essential.
Your Care Home’s Investment in WiFi
WiFi needs to be of a certain standard to be future proof and can involve considerable wiring and installation. But that doesn’t mean you need significant capital investment. Schemes like SeniorConnect allow you to cover the cost from a modest operational expense budget.
If you would like a free survey of your care home WiFi needs, contact us about SeniorConnect online or by phone.