Injecting wireless into healthcare

Injecting wireless into healthcare

Hospitals are starting to add wireless into the mix

Nurses in the maternity ward at Hepburn Health Service in Victoria are accessing birthing information, logging in patient details, and roaming around the ward with laptops thanks to a recent dose of Symbol wireless technology.

The Hepburn Health Service started the walk with wireless over the last 6-12 months, IT manager, Jason Panosh, said.

"We required a wireless network to facilitate applications on the hospital ward," he said. "We realised it was complementary to the wired network." And while the wireless benefits weren't always immediate, Panosh said staff more confident.

The health service, which runs four hospitals, started the wireless rollout at its main facilities, but plans to hook up its smaller campuses soon. The main focus to date has been on bringing wireless to clinical applications and concentrating on wireless VoIP.

Cutting wires in other areas of the hospital including boardrooms is also on the cards. Hooking up emergency applications in and around the hospital, is also a top priority.

"Wireless VoIP is giving us many opportunities in terms of voice communications with a number of devices at the same time," Panosh said. "We can integrate the paging equipment into the phone system. Before we were using consumer-grade cordless phones, but the range was dropping out. It was good at the time, but it's not up to task today."

He was confident wireless technology was ready for adoption within the hospital given the improved standards, enhanced security and mightier management.

"There's now an acceptable level of security, convergence of devices and a link into other systems," Panosh said. "We tried a few bits and pieces of wireless in the past but the problem was it didn't interoperate. We got locked in, and it was a turn-off. There were no standards-based solutions."

Making Life Easier

He expected clinical equipment - including diagnostic machinery and monitors - to attach to wireless networks down the line, making life easier for the highly mobile healthcare workers.

"Nothing moves really fast in terms of technology adoption, but there are lots of opportunities out there with wireless, so we're starting to see the benefits," he said. "The first step is getting the infrastructure in place."

Hospitals like Hepburn are using wireless technology to boost operational efficiency and run a host of critical applications. Partners can help healthcare put it all together and peddle a host of access points, broadband routers, bridges and switches In future, resellers could also look for wireless opportunities in location-based services and automated guided vehicles (AGV) or hospital robots, IDC Australia telecommunications market analyst, Shing Quah, said.

"Location-based services are a simple way to track where medical equipment is," she said. "A lost wheelchair could cost a fortune, for example, so it's a good way to pinpoint the item. It could save money and boost efficiency in and out of the ER room."

First introduced this year, AGV's can transport up to 500kg of goods, according to IDC telecommunications research director, Landry Fevre, who has studied the technology in international hospital settings.

They useg triangulation to assess location, destination and the best route.

Dubbed the hospital robot, the technology's communications system is a combination of wired and WLAN.

"An Ethernet LAN connects the system control centre to stationary elements including operator input terminals, RF antennas, lights, sensors and interfaces with fire doors, elevators, and cart washers," Fevre said. While AGVs may be down the line in terms of local uptake, they are one way to get the hospital discussion going about the mix of wired and wireless applications, which is often still a hard sell, according to Symbol Technologies wireless expert, Damian Stock. Stock said healthcare has struggled to find an ROI for wireless if based purely on data, but that's all changing as we start to see the benefits of converged voice and data networks.

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