GE, Sprint Bring Wireless to Patient Care

Wireless services from GE and Sprint will link hospital staff, patients and patients' families.

GE Healthcare and Sprint Custom Network Services are partnering to provide North American hospitals with wireless communications.

The system gives caregivers the ability to monitor patient status from anywhere on a hospital campus, and lets patients and their families remain connected to their own support network, improving the quality and the quantity of patient care, according to Munesh Makhija, general manager of systems and wireless, with GE Healthcare Monitoring Solutions of Waukesha, Wis.

Enabling constant communication between hospital staff, patients and caregivers is crucial to high-quality patient care, Makhija says.

The system incorporates wireless, traditional and fiber networking technologies and allows hospitals to deliver cellular and data, Wi-Fi and wireless LAN, VOIP, Voice over WLAN, medical telemetry, paging and mobile radio services to caregivers, patients and patients families. Caregivers can monitor a patients heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation levels and also track patient status over time using tablet PCs, PDAs and even cell phones, Makhija says.

"Hospitals are the ultimate mobile workforce in a 24/7 environment," says Makhija. "Theres the need to make decisions quickly in that environment. We can improve communication and patient care and help make gains in productivity by providing this platform," he says.

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Using a unified wireless infrastructure with wideband antennas and Cisco access points, the solution can pick up frequencies from a variety of devices--including medical telemetry equipment that monitors patient status--and transmit information back through traditional coax and fiber networks distributed throughout the hospital, according to Makhija.

The networks are managed through IT "closets" spaced around the building, making management, maintenance and upgrades a relatively simple process. Adding services only requires making infrastructure adjustments within these closets, Makhija says, lessening disruption of patient and staff routines.

Sprint incorporates intelligent handsets that monitor frequencies and boost or lower power requirements based on signal strength, which cuts down the amount of interference with hospital equipment, according to Greg Jacobs, director of sales, with Sprint CNS based in Reston, Va.

The resulting system, Jacobs says, is a bundle of hardware, software and services that addresses obsolescence, and is easily adaptable and scalable as new technology is introduced.

"We view the problem of keeping patients and caregivers connected as part of a larger problem," Makhija says. The shortage of caregivers coupled with new compliance regulations and increased legislative pressure for electronic patient records puts a huge burden on hospitals, both Makhija and Jacobs agree.

"We need to integrate the unorganized patient data and turn it into meaningful information thats delivered to the right caregiver at the right time," Makhija says.

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