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Florida Hospital Dials Up iPhones For Nurses

iPhones are helping a Sarasota hospital connect its nursing staff via text messaging, and soon, VoIP telephony.

Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System, a hospital in Florida, plans to deploy iPhones to its nurses, to replace audible alarms and alerts, bringing peace and quiet-- and improved performance--to the healthcare provider.

"One of the biggest problems in any complex environment, particularly healthcare, is communication," CIO Denis Baker said. "It's a nightmare to get a hold of someone, even people on the same floor, as they go about their tasks."

So Baker's ears perked up when he was approached by Voalte about piloting a project. Voalte is a startup developing point-of-care communications using mobile technology. Its application uses iPods to send pages and alerts.

For the 60-day pilot, Sarasota Memorial handed out 25 iPod Touches to nurses on a single floor in June. The decision was made to use the iPod Touch because it's less expensive than the iPhone, does not require a cell-phone service contract, and basically has all the capabilities of the iPhone exclusive of phone functionality.

Also, the hospital wanted to move from text messaging to VoIP telephony, and it anticipated that the Touch would become VoIP-ready in its next version.

A major objective of the project was to reduce the amount of noise and inefficiency involved in calling nurses where they're needed, Baker said.

He explained, "If a patient is in bed and needs assistance with something -- they might be in pain -- they now push a button on the bedside, that goes to the nursing desk, and someone has to hunt down a nurse and make an overhead page. That's inefficient, because it doesn't go to the right person, and it also makes for too many overhead pages." At any given point in the hospital, you can hear an overhead page every three minutes. Noise is a huge complaint in any hospital -- equipment moving, staff conversations, and especially overhead pages. The noise prevents patients from getting the rest they need to heal.

On the floor where the iPods were deployed, the hospital reduced overhead pages from 172 in eight hours to 38. The 25 deployed iPods were receiving 4,000 messages per day. "Nurses were getting comment form patients on how quiet it was," Baker said.

After a successful conclusion to the pilot, hospital senior management early this month approved the deployment of 100 additional devices to a second nursing floor and the critical care environment. The hospital is also looking into giving devices to anesthesiologists for communications between the hospital's 26 emergency rooms.

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