re: Unified Communications Touted For Healthcare Efficiency
Yes, there is tremendous opportunity for wireless unified communication in healthcare.
And if you believe the hype from cellular operators that promote the use of smartphones, they seem to have the key.
The only problem is that they are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with the only goal to increase the ARPU (Average revenue per user) and ultimately, their revenues.
Let's start with the obvious: healthcare facilities are usually indoors and cell phones have traditionally been notorious for poor indoor coverage. That isn't necessarily bad; anyone who has ever heard the interference of their GSM phone with other electronic equipment like speakers would not want those to be in close proximity of sensitive medical equipment to treat or diagnose patients in an ICU.
The list goes on: healthcare applications are "real-time" and, as anyone who has ever experienced delays or outages with cellular SMS service can attest to, text messaging on cellular networks can be unreliable. If you dig into the "terms for specific wireless data services" you may be shocked to see that cellular carriers offer no guarantees for successful transmission or delivery confirmation of SMS messages. If you need logs or a way to audit information (think insurance), you are out of luck.
Limited capacity is another problem; the more users outside the healthcare facility consume network capacity, the less is left for applications that may need more data or faster data transmission inside.
And when it comes to location awareness, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only requires that Wireless network operators must provide the latitude and longitude of callers within 300 meters, within six minutes of a request by a PSAP. Accuracy rates must meet FCC standards on average within any given participating PSAP service area by September 11, 2012.
Let's face it, cellphones (and even smart phones) are not built for the demanding environment that healthcare facilities represent. Even the police and other first responders, while they may be carrying cellphones, rely on purpose built communication devices to get the job done in mission-critical applications.
So what's the solution?
Let's look at purpose built indoor wireless LAN ("Wi-Fi") networks.
Designed to provide the coverage where needed, supporting Quality of Service (QoS) that gives priority to voice or video traffic. Many medical devices already use Wi-Fi today.
RTLS systems can provide real time location with accuracy levels that can pinpoint the device to the right floor and the right room inside a building.
Enterprise-Grade VoWLAN (Voice over IP over Wireless LAN) phones are designed to be rugged, in order to survive the demanding environment in modern hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
They offer user replaceable batteries that will last for a shift (or longer) and can be easily swapped when the next healthcare professional takes over.
The really good ones offer noise cancellation, so even if you use the phone when it gets loud and hectic, the message will come through loud and clear (leaving less room for error or misunderstandings).
And they have evolved to keep up with Unified Communication, with graphic displays, push to talk capabilities and messaging integration.
Integration with nurse call systems lets the patient talk directly with the nurse, even when she is away from the nurseGÇÖs station.
Integration with patient monitoring systems sends the alert straight to the nurse so she can check on the patient.
Built-in barcode readers help with positive patient ID (photos or even patient electronic medical records displayed right on the phone). And Medication Administration systems use all of that to further reduce the possibility of medical errors.
In the end, that's what it is all about. Reducing medical errors, increasing patient safety and giving medical professionals the tools to help them do their job better and more efficiently.
UC with the right processes, applications, devices and networks can do just that.