Hospital reaps healthy returns from wireless

Swedish Medical Center's new wireless network results in better patient care and a revenue boost.

And the new network increases overall efficiencies. The WoWs provide caregivers with real-time information at the point of care, eliminating the need for patients to move from location to location, while the use of tablets in the emergency room has enabled clinicians to make better decisions and place orders quickly -- a big benefit in a fast-paced environment. The network also supports voice via wireless phones, streamlining communications between surgical staff and transport staff, resulting in quicker turnaround of operating rooms.

Overall, Horsley says the new setup has led to 2 per cent higher revenues for the hospital system so far, due to increased efficiencies in care and billing.

Plenty of plans

But that's just the start. With its strong wireless foundation in place, the organization is now poised to garner increased savings and revenues via new wireless-based applications, including planned hands-free communications services from Vocera, as well as location-based services for tracking hospital equipment.

"With Vocera, you hit the button on your badge and just say, 'Call nurse Jones,' or 'Please call the nurse on 3West,' and it automatically connects the call," Horsley explains, noting that the hospital system began implementing the Vocera technology in January. "From a clinician's perspective, it's all about that quick communications, because it's a fast-paced environment and there are so many people involved. The wireless network helps us improve communications and overall workflow."

Similarly, Horsley's group is planning to augment the network with more access points to implement location-based services, primarily to better use and track expensive equipment, especially its Smart Pumps. Smart Pumps are integrated with hospital computer systems and can stop a nurse from giving 50 ml of a drug when it should be 5 ml, for example. The pumps are mobile and expensive, so linking them into the wireless network and tracking their usage and location will save money.

"With location-based services, there is definitely the potential benefit of saving greater than US$100,000 per year," Horsley says. "That comes from the efficient use of assets that tend to migrate in a hospital. Items such as Smart Pumps, surgical instruments, wheelchairs, and so on, get misplaced. And then services are delayed and staff spend time looking for them."

And time is, perhaps, the greatest savings for the organization. Horsley says he initially saw resistance from physicians regarding the wireless and EMR system. "It slows them down at first because they're just not used to doing everything on a computer and they are actually inputting information, where before they could just bark an order at an RN," he says. "But what they come to learn is they actually save time. They don't realize how much time they spent looking for information before, in the paper world. With the new setup, all the information they need to make a good decision is right at their fingertips."

Cummings is a freelance writer in North Andover, Mass. She can be reached at jocummings@comcast.net.

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