Case study: Princess Alice Hospice goes wireless

The Princess Alice Hospice is awarded charity of the year by iWireless Solutions, winning a £20,000 wireless network installation from the firm

Health organisations have long used innovative technology when it comes to treating patients, but some have lagged in using more common solutions for the day-to-day running of its centres.

The Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey, was already on the path towards digitising its services but had further to go to ensure a smoother running operation for those facing incredibly tough jobs.

The 28-bed hospice, with room for a further 20 to 30 seated outpatients, is staffed by 200 full-time employees and up to 150 part-time. The IT team of four supports between 200 and 250 laptops and PCs in the building to help them with their jobs.

While the medical records of each patient had been converted to digital – something the NHS is hoping to mimic for all in the public healthcare system – doctors and nurses still had to make notes at the bedside and input the data later, due to the lack of wireless networking. 

"But it wasn’t just staff hoping to gain the benefits.

“We were also getting requests from visitors, relatives and friends who were coming in to see patients,” said Phil Martin, IT manager at the Princess Alice Hospice. 

“For some of them, they would probably be sitting with patients for long periods of time but still needing to keep in touch with other people, and in some cases, work. So they were also asking whether we could provide Wi-Fi.”

With these two drivers, Martin and his team set to work to bring Wi-Fi to the hospice, but getting a solution set up internally was far from easy.

We had been talking about putting wireless in for a number of years and had actually tried it ourselves with an in-house solution

Phil Martin, IT manager at the Princess Alice Hospice

“We had been talking about putting wireless in for a number of years and had actually tried it ourselves with an in-house solution,” he explained.

“We had a couple of attempts, but the ward is in a new building – built about six years ago – and is a large metal-framed structure. We were finding that the Wi-Fi signals were attenuating quickly so, in effect, we could only provide local, single wireless access points and they were only of any use to relatives or friends of patients, we couldn’t use it for staff.”

Martin invited iWireless Solutions to the site to see if they could shed light on a better way to bring a Wi-Fi network to staff and visitors.

Using predominantly Cisco equipment, including a wireless LAN controller and wireless access points in the patient ward, day hospice and seminar rooms, the firm said it could utilise the existing network to keep disruption to a minimum and provide a wireless LAN infrastructure in a matter of weeks.

What was even better for the hospice was iWireless named the organisation as its charity of the year, giving it the deployment – worth around £20,000 – for free.

“The [solution] provides three networks at each access point,” said Martin. “We have the public network which is protected by a simple password, available to anybody who comes to the site. We also have a secure staff account and the third is a secure account for IT staff so we can implement any changes to the system wirelessly as well.”

“We have a relatively large number of access points dotted around the ward and clinical areas and these were needed to provide a strong signal throughout the whole building. So, whilst there are 10 access points in the new metal frame building, the older part of the building, which is non-clinical and houses our conference centre, the whole coverage there is providing by an additional two access points.”

Users on the network are able to walk from room to room of the hospice without losing connection at the network is designed to allow devices to move seamlessly from access point to access point, always connecting to the nearest, strongest signal.

Martin and his team trialled it for three weeks to iron out any concerns, but he was amazed at how well the solution performed.

“I was somewhat concerned because the electronic patient record system isn’t the greatest piece of software in the world,” he said. “It does its job but it is extremely susceptible to even the slightest glitch on the network and immediately [freezes], so I was somewhat concerned that this was going to happen as we walked around.”

“But it quickly became apparent it wasn’t going to complain about it at all and it actually functions extremely well. We can have our electronic patient health record system up on a mobile device, we can wander around the entire ward and the signal doesn’t drop off at all, just moves from one access point to the next.” said Martin.  

Within four weeks, the hospice was able to deploy the full solution and since the start of April has been live for patients, visitors and staff. 

Martin described the reaction from users as “muted” but believed this was because people just expect wireless connectivity wherever they are.

It is only when things start going wrong with IT that people start moaning and kicking our door down

“It has been like, ‘we have been asking for it, now we have got it so we will just carry on,’ which is good as if it wasn’t working properly we would obviously be hearing a lot about it,” he said. 

“It is like all other bits of IT. When it is in there and working, everybody just carries on as normal. It is only when things start going wrong with IT that people start moaning and kicking our door down.

“Fortunately we are not getting any of that so I can only make the assumption that everyone is extremely happy with it and just getting on with their jobs.”

Now, Martin and the hospice is looking to the future and bringing a wider variety of devices in for ease of use.

“The network lends itself to tablets,” he said. “We have a Citrix configurations here that allows our community team to go out with tablets and access the electronic patient record system from anywhere they can get Wi-Fi or a 3G signal. Now we are saying this can apply on the wards.

“It will also enable us to make better use of the space we have got. For example, we have two nurse stations on the ward and space in there is limited, therefore the number of wired PCs that we can provide is limited.

“There are times when generally at the end of the shift when all the nurses want to input their information and some of them actually have to wait until a PC is freed up. With this wireless solution, they can just sit anywhere where there is a spare chair and do their notes from there. 

"It is really going to make their lives easier.”

Read more on Wireless networking