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Symbol, ReefEdge, and EMS push Medicinal Wi-Fi

While business travelers and home users seem to derive the most benefits from Wi-Fi-based access to the Internet and networks, arguably wireless networking could make the most impact in the medical industry.

More and more hospitals are embracing wireless networks as the technology get simpler, easier to manage, and receives the security medical facilities need. For example, this week Symbol Technologies announced that its switched wireless network system is to be deployed by Adventist Health in 20 hospitals on the West Coast and in Hawaii, as well as throughout the 22-building Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, TN.

Because the Symbol Mobius system, which consists of a switched controller and several "dumb" access ports that provide the wireless connectivity, also has policy-based security, it makes it easier for network administrators to meet the requirements for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. That law requires that all patient data be secure and private, something that's not considered a given when information if traveling the airwaves.

Not to be outdone, wireless security provider ReefEdge is deploying its ReefEdge Connect System (a server with edge controllers) at Memorial Medical Center, a 562-bed teaching hospital in Springfield, IL, run by Memorial Medical Center. For them, security heading into full support of HIPAA was paramount, but the wireless LAN had to also provide better session link persistence and serve areas outside of the medical wards, from accounting to human resources.

So what does a Wi-Fi network mean for a hospital's medical staff? Fewer paper charts like you see on TV? Fast access to records and even graphical images such as X-rays or CT scans? All of the above is possible, but the right equipment helps.

Perhaps the new wave of pen-computing tablet PCs is the answer? Maybe not, according to Keith Washington, general manager of the Healthcare Solutions Group at EMS Technologies of Atlanta, GA.

"The carrying under the arm of a panel is where clinicians object," says Washington. Worse, once you're done using a tablet PC, you have no place to put them and they're not secure.

EMS Wireless (a division of EMS Technologies) thinks it has the solution in the form of FLO, a "Mobile Clinical Workstation" designed like a patient info access system that nurses or doctors can wheel around as necessary to enter or access patient information.

Washington says a number of FLO units, which generally start at a price of around $4000, can completely change the way a hospital works its charting system. The immediate benefit over a tablet PC is that "there's no place to store panels and [staff] are only entering data short amount of the time" -- the FLO can stay in one place or is on wheels for portability so it can serve an entire ward if necessary.

The various height-adjustable FLO models consist of an OEM's box (usually a Windows-based computer from Gateway or Wyse, according to Washington) coupled with an integrated keyboard and 15-inch LCD monitor. All are designed from a safety perspective for patient care, and get certification to back that up.

As of this week, EMS Wireless is making the FLO available for general purchase through partner resellers and has announced a large deployment with Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, a system of three major hospitals in the Chicago Suburbs. The facilities will get 500 FLO workstations to be used with the EpicCare Inpatient Clinical System.

EMS also provides more than just FLO -- the company resells an entire 802.11b access point and antenna system that targets healthcare facilities, as well as a number of fixed-wireless products.