Wireless wows in North Carolina

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David Ziolkowski, senior vice president of support services and chief information officer at Sampson Regional Medical Center in Clinton, N.C., presented, “The Real ROI of Wireless Systems” at HIMSS07 on Monday.

Although a wireless system was not a priority at Sampson, operational efficiency is. “As CIO, I need to drive efficiency,” Ziolkowski said. This project was undertaken exclusively to increase efficiency and productivity of caregivers.

Choosing devices was a challenge, he said. “We struggled while figuring out what we wanted to do,” he said. “There was no one ultimate device that met all of our needs.” Once the team decided that voice recognition was definitely needed, “the smoke cleared.”

The project included campus-wide coverage of a wireless network. Initially, they talked about just integrating wireless with the nursing call system but decided that as long as they were making the investment in wireless, they should cover the entire enterprise. They also integrated wireless with existing Nortel PBX, developed a single messaging platform and purchased a combination of about 200 phones, pagers and alarms.

The benefits have ranged from better communication between nurses and patients and nurses and physicians to better tracking for bed turnover, plant operations and ancillary care. For example, turnaround time from the emergency department to the floors significantly decreased. ED physicians have more time with patients and with attending physicians. For patients discharged from the ED, turnaround time went from over three hours to under two. The radiology department went from a very complicated, paper-intensive process to a much more streamlined system. The hospital purchased a PACS and integrated it with the wireless system. That, along with the wireless system, reduced the process for emergency imaging procedures from 275 minutes and 23 steps to 24 minutes and seven steps.

“The system is a finger on the pulse of everything that happens in the hospital,” said Ziolkowski.

The project had an initial cost of $235,000. The return on investment was $262,000 after the first year and a five-year net present value of $690,000. Patient days have increased by just over 14 percent but productivity has increased by 14.75 percent. That has resulted in more than $600,000 in a six-month period. The total for the year led to one of the hospital’s most profitable years with a one percent increase in profit margin.

Ziolkowski said this project is repeatable at other facilities. However, he stressed not to underestimate the importance of communication systems vs. information systems. Also, be prepared for the project to continually grow and expand in functionality and value.