Wireless networks are all the rage in and beyond healthcare. And why not? Wireless is economical compared to cabled networks, and can yield tremendous improvements in healthcare by providing real-time information to decision-makers, thus reducing time to diagnosis and treatment. There's more. Wireless also can facilitate efficiency and decrease errors by streamlining paper-intensive tasks. But, to be successful, the wireless team needs to prepare for some common challenges.
Consider these options:
- Wireless should not be installed by one department alone. The IT team, in cooperation with the department leaders, is integral to successful deployment and maintenance of the network.
- Security is an ongoing challenge. Wireless sites need a proactive security plan, and they need to constantly assess the success of that plan.
- Communication is key. What do wireless users need from IT and vice versa? Equally important, establish and communicate your objectives with vendors.
- Plan for realistic capacity from the start. Wireless will be a hit, and users will clamor for more devices and applications.
Healthcare is rapidly unwiring. Mobile healthcare decision-makers are increasingly demanding wireless access anywhere in the facility - via laptop, tablet PC or even PDA. And IT is complying because wireless can provide broadband access to locations where DSL or cable modems can't and is often more cost-effective in providing network access when running cable or fiber is too expensive or even impossible because of building logistics.
Wireless network use in healthcare is growing. According to market watcher Frost & Sullivan's report on U.S. Emerging Wireless Markets for Patient Care, wireless revenues will increase from $330 million in 2003 to $637.3 in 2007. Hospitals are tapping into wireless to enhance productivity and improve patient care by providing decision-makers with immediate, real-time access to patient data.
The results can be quite impressive. Take for example, NorthEast Medical Center in Concord, N.C. The hospital implemented a digitized heart imaging system. The wireless solution transmits EKGs from the ambulance to the cardiologist and reduced the 'door-to-dilation' response time from 93 minutes to 33 minutes. Other hospitals are recovering revenue with wireless. St. Mary's Hospital in Evansville, Ind., reports a 30 percent boost in daily billings for respiratory therapists after implementing wireless patient care documentation. And Upland, Calif.'s San Antonio Community Hospital is banking that a second-generation wireless network will enhance productivity and patient care in the ER.
What does it take to become a wireless success story? Tips to succeed.
- A clear project vision, goal and a plan authored by IT and the department. Yes, wireless is cool, but how can it be deployed to improve healthcare? NorthEast Medical Center followed this rule to the letter and tapped into wireless for clear results.
- Allow clinical and staff needs to drive wireless, not vice versa. See how St. Mary's Hospital did it.
- Collaborate and communicate-among staff and with vendors. Some vendors will go the extra mile to ensure success. Medical Research Labs developed custom software to get the NorthEast Medical Center project off the ground.
- Find a solution that answers the three critical wireless needs-mobility, security and scalabilty. San Antonio Community Hospital used its generation one wireless experience as a springboard to develop a comprehensive second-generation wireless solution.
St. Mary's Hospital Real-time Access for Improved Patient Care
St. Mary's Hospital started down the wireless path late in 2002 and installed wireless networks on its clinical floors. The hospital was moving to an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) environment; however, nurses reported a significant hitch in implementing the EMR. That is, there weren't nearly enough PCs or terminals for nurses to input patient data. Wireless presented a cost-effective solution to the PC/terminal shortage and also enabled mobility among healthcare providers. The hospital opted for an enterprise-wide Proxim 802.11a network and adopted a phased approach to wireless projects. This phased approach helped ensure a smooth implementation, explains CIO Dennis DeMasie.
The IS team first concentrated on a respiratory therapist project. This was a priority project because the team recognized that the small project could be successful and also demonstrate an immediate financial benefit.