WLANs Spreading to Hospitals

Wireless networking company Symbol Technologies is
moving to widen its market share in the healthcare industry, helping a
growing number of hospitals deploy switched-wireless and Wireless Local Area
Networks in their patient care systems.

The Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol, which specializes in integrating
wireless networks with handheld computers that capture bar code data and
voice applications, recently helped Erlanger Healthcare Systems deploy a
switched-wireless networking system throughout its Erlanger Medical Center,
a 22-building healthcare campus in Chattanooga, Tenn.

With the networking system, nurses can use handheld devices to input
patient data within the hospital’s network, removing the process of taking
handwritten notes and then inputting the data by hand.

Symbol said its switch-based wireless network can be scaled for higher
bandwidth applications that deploy the 802.11a wireless networking protocol.
Erlanger said it plans to co-locate 5.2Ghz wireless networks across 25
percent of its hospital campus in order to be used with digital imaging
applications in the cardiology, radiology and neurology departments.

That’s in addition to the 802.11b Wi-Fi network it is
rolling out across its hospital campus, which will be used to offer
wireless Internet service to 125 physician offices located on its
hospital campus.

Erlanger also plans to roll out about 40 new wireless switches and 1,000
access ports across its campus over the next two and a half years as it
readies a new crop of mobile applications. The switches and ports
will be deployed for mobile medical workstations, the hospital said, and
would eventually feature a headset-based soft phone for voice
communications and an attached bar code scanner for verifying prescriptions
while dispensing medications at the bedside.

Next up on its wireless networking plans is Voice-over-IP
telephony. The hospital plans to equip about 600 staff members with phones
that work over WLANs. Wireless network providers working on the service are
also BellSouth Corporation and Nortel Networks Corporation.

Brad Brown, chief information officer, Erlanger Healthcare Systems, said
although the WLAN features are practical and cost-effective to add, the
project’s main concern was its ability to secure patient data in compliance
with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations
about protecting patient data.

In another WLAN deployment, Symbol helped non-profit health care company
Adventist Health deploy mobile applications within 20 of its hospitals
throughout California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.

The networking project also involved a new information system (CIS)
architecture provided by Cerner Corporation, which specializes in
medical-based information technology systems.

Adventist Health said it is building the wireless data network in order
to connect health care practitioners to pertinent medical information
through mobile point-of-care carts. Also on its drawing board are a nurse
call system that uses wireless VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) handsets
and medical administration record applications using bar code
scanning-integrated mobile computing devices. Adventist Health said it plans
to roll out the switched-wireless network system this year.

“The demand for Wi-Fi wireless networks is rapidly growing for
medium-to-large hospitals where bed capacity is over 200,” said Amith
Viswanathan, senior industry analyst, Frost & Sullivan. “As hospitals deploy
mobility applications to improve operational efficiency, wireless networks
will be installed initially for high patient throughput areas, including
emergency rooms, critical care wards and nursing care floors.”

The research firm expects the hospital market for Wi-Fi wireless network
hardware alone (excluding mobile devices, software and services) to reach
$175.1 million by 2005 and to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 52
percent during that time period.

The hospital projects and deployments of Wi-Fi networks are part of
announcements from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
(HIMSS) conference which began this week in San Diego.

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