Devices & Technology

Wireless Technology Benefits Patients, Clinicians


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Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC

Finding a technology that has benefits for clinicians, patients and their families is not always easy. Wireless technology offers that opportunity.

Wireless technology allows electronics to be used without being wired together. A garage door opener is a wireless technology with which we have been familiar for decades. Other familiar equipment that can be used in a wireless environment includes cellular telephones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Wireless communication now allows the ability to connect equipment to networks and the Internet.

Hospitals across the country are putting in a wireless infrastructure and finding technology for improving patient satisfaction, patient safety and clinician efficiency. The University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) has recently completed a wireless infrastructure throughout the facility, to the benefit of staff and visitors alike.

“This infrastructure allows ubiquitous access for staff, patients and family in all clinical areas,” explained Anthony Rubino, UCMC’s assistant director for information services.

How is it being used?

Children in the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital have Internet access through the television in their patient room, which has proven to be beneficial to their spirit in an otherwise difficult situation.

“Surrounding the children with things that they have at home has already shown an improvement in attitude during their hospital stay,” Rubino said.

Members of the family can bring in a laptop and connect to the Internet to work or to connect with other family members.

“Many of our patients are here for extended stays and families cannot always take an absence from work,” Rubino added. “This allows them to work while being active with their kids.”

With respect to clinical services, wireless has been used to enhance the computers on wheels, paging, telemetry, cellular telephones, handheld devices and nurse-call systems. The nurses now carry telephones with them and the nurse-call system sends alerts to the telephone. When a nurse pages a physician, the physician can call the nurse directly rather than calling the nursing unit desk and engaging in a round of phone tag. Telemetry alerts go directly to the telephone as well.

These improvements have had benefits that go beyond the use of the technology.

“It enhances the ability to provide more care, more time at the bedside and less running around,” explained Joyce Keldsen, RN, director of call center services at the UCMC. “Patient safety is improved with the real-time alert to the telephone if the patient’s call light is not answered right away and with physicians able to reach the nurse wherever she is.”

Rubino added, “One benefit we did not see coming is that patient families can now reach a nurse directly, reducing message taking and overhead paging and improving communication regarding the patient’s condition.”

The technology uses extend to the medical equipment. There is now a pilot project with wireless infusion pumps. The pumps receive drug updates without moving them to clinical engineering. The pumps have been tagged with a radio frequency locator. This locator allows the pumps to be placed in a holding area, and when there are a pre-set number of them together, a technician is automatically paged so that they can be picked up and taken for cleaning and replaced with ready units.

What training and support is required?

UCMC has found that patients and family access the network without much difficulty.

“We have not received many calls from patients and their families, they seem to be able to access the wireless network without a problem,” Rubino explained.

“The nurses have not had to support the technology; that was a requirement from a nursing perspective,” Keldsen added.

“Some training was required for the nurses on the new telephones, with the biggest emphasis on how to check out the telephone at the beginning of a shift and identifying the device to the nurse,” Rubino added.

What’s next?

“We are watching closely the advancements in the ‘labcoat PC’,” Rubino explained. “We see a day when the PC is a size and weight that allows clinicians to easily carry it around and when applications have been developed to be easily used on a small screen and without a keyboard.”

Rubino concluded, “We hope to tag more equipment to improve known location and reduce running around.”

For more information visit the Web sites of the University of Chicago Medical Center and the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital.

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