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October 2, 2008

NHS Trust turns to wireless to improve patient care

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust has deployed an Alcatel-Lucent Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) to form the core component of its IT strategy, which aims to transform clinical care and enable total mobility of its patient services.

By Jason Stamper

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust is internationally renowned for its heart and lung centre. Alcatel-Lucent’s wireless network, which was installed by networking and security integrator Khipu Networks, gives Trust employees the ability to perform clinical procedures and access patient information anywhere in the hospital, as well as supporting the organisation’s goal of providing ‘paper-light’ electronic access to all clinical, managerial and administrative records by 2010/2011.

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust, which comprises two hospitals 20 miles apart at Chelsea and Uxbridge, London, will use the wireless network to deliver sensitive data that requires resilience, security and speed – such as x-ray images, patient monitoring information, pathology results and cardiovascular imaging.

It is said to enable the staff, equipped with Tablet PCs such as Mobile Clinical Assistants (MCAs), to record medical information direct from patients’ wristbands or at their bedsides, and transmit it into a central database — crucial in ensuring fast and accurate patient identification and diagnosis, according to the Trust.

“Hospitals operate in a totally mobile way,” explained Graham Everson, director of IT and telecommunications at the Trust. “Clinicians, nurses and patients are continually on the move, and in order to deliver effective care, staff must be granted universal access to patient data.”

“Wireless technology perfectly supports the core clinical functions of a hospital, and thus forms the bedrock of our IT strategy,” said Everson. “Most importantly, it is an enabler – on top of it, you can build layers of device and functionality to make day to day operations more dynamic and flexible, reducing patient risk in the process.”

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust serves more than 80,000 outpatients and 26,000 inpatients each year from the UK and overseas, and employs more than 2,500 staff. 

The wireless network, which is based on Alcatel-Lucent’s OmniAccess WLAN technology, will complement and support the Trust’s existing Alcatel-Lucent fixed data infrastructure, according to Alcatel-Lucent.  In the initial rollout, 300 clinicians and consultants will gain access to the wireless facilities, while the network will facilitate more users following site acceptance tests, designed to gauge performance and compile employee feedback.

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“Within a hospital, IT must be completely invisible from an infrastructure support perspective.  It must operate smoothly 24 hours a day, and should seek to improve the way we deliver high quality patient care,” said Everson.  “However, at the same time the applications themselves must be visible and readily available, encouraging uptake and allowing us to transfer more tasks to handheld devices.”

“The new wireless network lays the foundation for us to increase mobility and removing paper-based processes in this way, while ensuring we remain fully compliant with Department of Health security standards,” Everson said.

Royal Brompton & Harefield has future plans to link the telecommunications at both sites using voice over IP (VoIP) to remove the cost of internal calls, as well as giving staff GSM devices with wireless capabilities, enabling them to automatically switch over to the Wi-Fi network whenever they’re onsite, achieving further flexibility and cost-savings.

The Trust is also examining the deployment of ‘hands free’, location monitoring and communication technology.  Vocera technology can be seen as a powerful replacement for traditional hospital ‘bleep’ systems, as it provides devices that do not need their own independent ‘network’, but instead work via the hospital’s WLAN.

This allows for two-way voice communication using voice recognition to locate the ‘target audience’ – individual or group – within the hospital.  The system has direct operational benefits to clinical and nursing staff, security staff and portering staff, and can be used to improve workflow efficiency of the Trust employees across each of the sites at the hospital.

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