Feature

Wireless Lan relieves hospital processes

Network cuts prescription processing time and gives remote access to records, writes Antony Adshead.

Sandwell General Hospital has successfully completed the first stage in a roll-out of wireless Lan equipment to doctors which has slashed the time needed to process prescriptions and has allowed them to access electronic patient records while on ward rounds.

The hospital has so far spent about £40,000 on 802.11b wireless equipment and has seen a cut in prescription processing time of 25%. It has equipped its access points with 802.11a capability in readiness for 54mbps technology when it becomes available.

Richard Brand, head of electronic patient records at the hospital, said the installation cost a similar amount to a projected extension of the fixed network but for the same sum the hospital gained the advantage of a wireless solution.

More than 20 wards have been equipped with wireless Lan access points from comms equipment supplier Avaya, installed by Telesys. They connect to the hospital's 100mbps Ethernet backbone. Paediatric and cardiology teams use the network to access medical databases, x-rays and pharmacy data.

According to Brand, prescription processing times have been cut by about an hour and two or three stages of paper processing have been removed.

"Pharmacists support doctors on their ward rounds and set off the administration process for patient drugs from the ward. The pharmacist equipped with a Sony Vaio notebook is devolved to the ward and can access the pharmacy database from the bedside. It is new way of working that we have been able to do with the wireless network," said Brand.

Brand said paediatricians are now able to embark on ward rounds without having to go through the time-consuming process of collating numerous paper documents beforehand - they can now access electronic records from the bedside. In addition, the doctor can view other elements of a patient record such as x-rays.

Brand said, "The potential is there for all sorts of things - the wireless Lan is an extension to make the service we get from our network better and we want to extend its use on the ward in future."

Security is handled by incorporating the wireless Lan into the hospital's virtual Lan, which gives virtual private network-type tunnel protection. The Avaya access points have a further level of security in that all devices need their Mac addresses to be authenticated against a table of permitted devices held on a radius server.

Before implementation the wireless Lan equipment was checked to ensure its power output did not interfere with signals in critical equipment such as intensive therapy units and to ensure there was no Bluetooth use, which could also cause interference.

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Summary
  • Doctors equipped with laptops can access patient records, x-rays and pharmacy via wireless Lan from patient's bedside

  • Cost the same as fixed PCs but gave extra flexibility and substantial cuts in paperwork processing times

  • Decision taken to utilise only standard 802.11b security features.

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This was first published in February 2003

 

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