Producing Healthy Results

As healthcare facilities continue to focus on improving efficiency among limited human resources, systems contractors are integrating technologies that are redefining nurse call.

Maureen Pajerski, vice president of sales and marketing at the Rauland-Borg Corporation in Skokie, IL, observes that this requires those serving this market to provide relevant systems. "Healthcare facilities are looking for an increase and focus on both the ease of use and ease of implementation," she said. "They are tired of buying technologies where it's not implemented and they don't improve productivity of patient satisfaction. They are looking for true, measurable productivity results. It might be the best technology in the world, but if they don't use it, it's worthless. The biggest issue is they have spent money on technology that hasn't generated any measurable results, and they aren't interested in doing that anymore."

One of the hot buttons among technical personnel at hospitals is how critical alarms are transferred to the nurses' wireless units. "There is no such thing as a standalone nurse call system anymore," Pajerski said. "One of the biggest productivity increases that hospitals have seen is the integration of the nurse-patient communication systems with a wireless phone. When the patient places a call, it goes to the right nurse and he or she can instantly answer the call. They don't have to run all the way down to the patient to find out that they want the drugs, and then they have to run back up and get them." Instead, they can determine what the patient needs instantly and address it, or forward the call to someone else. "Those types of integration and the ability of the systems to integrate to the variety of other systems in the hospitals are important."

At York Hospital in York, PA, Sage Technology Solutions integrated Rauland Borg's Responder 4 system with its LAN interface, Respondernet-in conjunction with middleware and ASCOM preset wireless telephones-to address this issue.

"We have simplified the process by using barcode readers to allow the nurses to log onto the system by just swiping their ID badge and the wireless handset that they are using," explained Mark Lizambri, systems engineer at Sage Technology Solutions. "This makes it easy for them to log in, and it tells the system to deliver messages from their particular patients to their wireless handset, giving them the ability to respond to patients' needs in a very efficient manner." For example, it's not necessary for nurses to be at the nurse's desk to know that one of their patients is calling. "When they see, via the text message that their patient has called, they can respond to them rapidly to determine their needs. In many cases, that saves some steps, because if a patient needs water, they can grab that on their way down to the room."

In the operating room, both consultants and contractors are challenged with integrating technologies by a number of different manufacturers that configure their systems to operate as a package. "Some of our clients want to mix and match these components, such as recording, control, and so on," said Pete Christensen, director of the healthcare studio at Shen, Milsom & Wilke in New York, NY. "We have to design systems that accommodate all of the different requirements from these medical systems manufacturers and integrate them into a seamless system."

Christensen notes that the recording of information during surgery is becoming increasingly comprehensive: not only are audio and video tracks registered, but information produced by the medical systems themselves is, too. For example, the data recorded by a physiological monitor-which tracks blood pressure and heart rate, among other functions-are now aligned with video. "We can record those streams of information to a digital server, and then re-create the physiological monitoring systems in time with the video, so that you get a playback of the procedure that was done, but you also get a record of how the patient was doing," he explained. "You can also track the surgical information system. This tracks when drugs were administered, when blood was given, and so on. This gives them a much more complete picture of what was happening, as opposed to just an audio/video track."

John Sims, president of Allied Communications in Lexington, KY, noted that hospitals are starting to demand the reduction of technological "clutter," including middleware. "What we have had to do, if we were going to have our nurse call system interface with a wireless in-house telephone system, there had to be another computer to manage that hand-off," he illustrated. If a patient placed a call, the nurse call system would generate that information, and a separate computer would determine where the call would be sent. "Hospitals want to eliminate that. Our systems require standards to be developed so that it can connect directly to the Cisco switch, so that the system already knows what it is, and what to do with it. They are trying to eliminate clutter in the systems, and be able to connect directly to the network without all of the middleware."

Lizambri concedes that while these technologies may be impressive, sometimes they are accepted with hesitation. Sage Technology Solutions strives to head off any reticence from end-users through its Enhanced Professional Services program. "This service focuses on working with nursing supervisors, managers, and department heads, to bring them on board with how we are going to approach getting the staff to use the new technology," he explained. "If they have the technology and don't use it, it's worthless. We take a lot of care in making sure that we introduce the technology in a positive way and provide the end-users with the knowledge that it's going to be rough getting used to it, but we emphasize the benefits that they are going to see whenever they use this technology."