Hospital uses WiFi to improve patient care

24 Aug 2006 View Comments
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Belfast’s Royal Hospitals NHS Trust is using a WiFi network as the foundation for a huge IT overhaul that will revolutionise the way it handles patient care.

The trust – the largest acute facility in the UK, with more than 7,000 staff – is installing wireless hotspots to cover its entire 80-acre site.

Paul Duffy, IT manager at Royal Hospitals, says the introduction of WiFi is allowing massive consolidation and improvement of the trust’s voice communications, vital for such a large and complex site.

‘We have too many communication systems that all need supporting and fixing, which takes the IT team a lot of time,’ he said.

Pagers, in particular, are seen as inefficient, forcing medical staff to wait by phones for calls when they should be treating patients, he says.

The trust has introduced wearable voice-activated WiFi badges that can be used anywhere in the range of the Telindus-supplied WiFi network.

Users say the name of the person they want to talk to into the badge, and are immediately voice-linked to them, freeing up time for treatment of patients.

The system can also keep track of which ward or area an individual is in, allowing them to be located anywhere in the network’s radius.

Dr Patricia Donnelly, the Royal’s director for clinical services, says the wireless network is very useful in areas such as drug distribution and storage.

Her department is planning to conduct a trial next month of a robot that will handle drug distribution in the hospital.

‘Drug dispensaries are extremely work-intensive places that need a lot of people working flat out. A robot can have drug orders transmitted to it by WiFi, scan dispensary shelves looking at barcodes, then grab what is needed and get it to the right ward. It is very quick indeed,’ said Donnelly.

‘It can even use the night to do stocktakes and reorganise things. That means we can reduce drug stocks massively, because if we know our drug levels all the time we won’t have to wait for a big stocktake every quarter of a year.’

Donnelly hopes to generate savings of £500,000 per year using WiFi-enabled technology to support drug distribution.

The time saved by the robot could also allow pharmacists to go out into the hospital and advise on drug regimes for patients, speeding up recovery times, says Donnelly.

‘A lot of the time drug regimes can go wrong, so if pharmacists have the time to go and speak to people they can improve treatment programmes,’ she said.

What do you think? Email feedback@computing.co.uk

Further reading:

WiFi badges locate doctors

Quality control for WiFi voice

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