By Jeremy M. Albert, DMD, MS
What was once just a trendy offering at Starbucks or Barnes & Nobles, open Wi-Fi access points or ‘hotspots’ for laptops, tablets, or mobile phones have become pretty common fare in most businesses with reception areas. Even your friendly neighborhood orthodontist! However, offering this much-appreciated (and relatively inexpensive to provide) service to your patients is not as simple as it is for WiFi access for your home. Due to patient privacy concerns and exposure liability for your practice (HIPAA), WiFi at your office needs to be done properly, or not at all.
Concerns & Safety
First off, although a WiFi access point can use the same data connection to the Internet as your practice computers, you will want to setup your office hotspot to be “OFF NETWORK.” In other words, the internet connection that you setup for your hotspot will need to be an independent connection from that of your internal office connection. This way, your clientele will not have the ability to gain access and/or view your office data, patients’ information, or other devices’ information that attached to the hotspot. Without this type of separation between your office and public connections, you are setting yourself up for an infringement of the HIPAA Regulations Act in exposing your patients’ personal information to the general public. This, in itself, could cost an office between $100 – $50,000 per violation with a maximum of $25,000 – $1,5M for repeat offenders, and the possibility of your office being closed until such violations are corrected and then re-inspected. This could cost an orthodontic practice quite a bit in downtime and expenses. As a side note, an owner who knowingly infringes upon this violation could face imprisonment for up to 10 years.
The wireless access point hardware used to setup a hotspot is different than most wireless routers/firewalls you may use for personal purposes, with integrated software for the open WiFi setup. One of the main features is a ‘landing page’ that people attempting to connect to the hotspot will be directed to. The landing page will have a service usage agreement that covers the terms and conditions in offering this free service, discusses proper usage and guidelines, and separates the practice from liability concerns. The patient must agree to terms before they complete the WiFi connection, and then the integrated software will automatically direct them to your preferred home page (typically your practice website, which helps drive up your website unique visits as well!). The access point will also have protection features between the users connected so they cannot access each other’s systems. Also, depending upon how involved you want to be in keeping your clients safe, there are other firewall appliances that incorporate additional features, like content filtering, spam filtering, virus protection, etc., that can be implemented to protect the browser.
Finally, the implementation of a hotspot access code for the connectivity to your public WiFi access is important to prevent or limit non-client abuse. This way, only your patients in your office can use your Internet bandwidth and not your neighbors or people passing by. Just post a couple nicely framed signs around your reception area that announce the presence of the free WiFi hotspot and provide your access code. (Small side note – keeping the access code simple to read and remember will keep clients from harassing your receptionists for help connecting, so just keep that in mind.) Also, an automatic disconnect after 15 minutes of inactivity is helpful to keep neighbors from sitting on your connection.
With proper set-up, a free WiFi hotspot is a great addition to your reception area and will be appreciated by your tech-savvy, social networking, or work-on-the-go clientele.