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Setting up Wi-Fi for your physical therapy practice

Setting up Wi-Fi for your physical therapy practice is key

We all know and love (and sometimes hate!) Wi-Fi. When it works well, it’s amazing. You’re cruising around your practice documenting on your EMR, creating HEPs, and doing billing – your physical therapy software is humming. When it’s not working, you’re stuck waiting for things to load and just feel your productivity slowing and morale fading. Some simple tips and tricks can help you setup Wi-Fi in your practice to create corner-to-corner coverage and to improve your practice’s security and HIPAA compliance stance.

Start with the basics - #1 = get a decent router

You need to get a good router. There is a difference between the $20 box store router and the $100 – $200 router that you can get online. The more expensive routers are better built and designed to deliver better coverage. They also tend to be more stable and require less reboots.

There are two exceptions to this:
1) If your internet provider provides a router and won’t allow you to use your own or using your own is a technical challenge

2) If your practice is physically large enough that you need to pursue more enterprise grade gear (see below about going pro)

As an aside, you should of course you have a good connection from your provider but this blog post is all about getting that connection spread across your practice’s physical space.

Start with the basics - #2 = location, location, location

The majority of practices have a simple setup: a (cable) modem + a separate router OR an all-in-one modem + router. The router is really the part that will make a difference for coverage in your practice. The router can usually be easily identified because it has one or more antennas sticking out of it (doesn’t always but most of the time). This is the unit that you want to focus your efforts on placing in a good location.
 
The ideal location is:
  • Central - pick a place that is central. Most routers are designed to cover a radius of area so putting your router in a corner isn't going to serve you well
  • Elevated - keep your wi-fi router higher off the ground if possible. You can put it on a piece of furniture or mount it to a wall. Burying your router under a desk is going to lessen its reach and is likely to cause coverage issues
  • Accessible - You need to be able to get at your router to reset it or replace it from time to time. Keep it in a place that you can get to easily is ideal.

You don’t necessarily have to be limited by where your internet connection comes into your space. You can run longer wires (coaxial or Ethernet) as is needed. Finally, you can also consider placing your router near your front desk if it makes sense (will allow you to hardwire  a computer at the desk)

These best practices, do the best that you can to meet all three criteria.

Intermediate steps that you can take to extend wi-fi coverage

If you’ve followed the basics above and you’re still struggling with getting good wi-fi coverage, there are some intermediate steps that you can consider.
  • Try different locations for your routers. Try moving your router to see if you can do better with your signal
  • Try a wi-fi extender. Wi-fi extenders can help you make your network reach further
  • Try getting a mesh wi-fi network system. The latest generation of wi-fi routers support mesh which means that you can buy a system with 3 access points that you can put in different spots in your practice giving you reach from end to end

Need more? Go Pro.

Some practice spaces just can’t be covered by retail or light business grade routers even with extenders – they are just too big! In other cases, a practice may not be physically large but are laid out in a way that requires more than just a router and some extenders (e.g. layouts that have individual physical therapy treatment rooms with lots of walls). Other practices may also colocate in a gym posing additional challenges.

In these cases, you should consider going pro and hiring a professional who can design and install a system for you. Many local IT shops and electricians can provide this service. If your practice needs it then it needs it. In this case, you may consider ceiling mounted wi-fi access points.

A note on security and guest networks

No matter how you physically setup your Wi-Fi network, make sure to keep security in mind. You should use the latest security with a strong password. Today that standard is WPA2. You should not share your Wi-Fi network’s password with anyone who should not have access and you should rotate the password if you have an employee quit or leave your practice.

If you want to offer free Wi-Fi to your patients (e.g. in a waiting area), do NOT give away your Wi-Fi credentials. Setup a guest network (even cheap routers have this feature now) so that you can separate your networks and keep patient guests off of your main network.

The bottom line

Wi-Fi is a key piece of physical therapy technology (check out our post about buying tech for your physical therapy practice) in your practice. The internet is a key tool for you and your staff. Slow connections because your Wi-Fi isn’t up to par isn’t acceptable. With a little bit of work, you can get things moving no matter where you are standing your practice.

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