A midsize hospital could have as many as 15 different wireless systems, including pagers, and a multihospital chain could have as many as 40, said Steve Lorenc, general manager of GE Healthcare.
As the numbers and types of wireless applications used in hospitals grow, several companies are offering to replace parallel networks in hospitals with infrastructures that support multiple kinds of devices. Most of these companies, including MobileAccess, Airwave, InnerWireless Inc. and Meru Networks, have experience installing their networks in large private and public buildings as well as university campuses.
But whether or not hospitals will use these companies is "the golden question," said Steve Tobin, an analyst in health and life sciences IT with Frost and Sullivan. "Youre talking about a plethora of products to be managed. Its the hospitals choice" how it will do so. The deal between GE Healthcare and MobileAccess is an attempt to better penetrate a difficult hospital market.
The advantage of a common wireless infrastructure is "eliminating disparate networks that have different management capabilities," said Cathy Zatloukal, CEO of MobileAccess, so that IT staffs do not need to install, maintain and troubleshoot parallel, stand-alone infrastructures to support voice, data and other transmissions. Such consolidation can lower costs and increase reliability, she said.
GE Healthcare entered the partnership with MobileAccess because of plans to expand its offerings in medical telemetry. This technology transmits data from devices like glucose monitors and ECGs directly to a computer system. The technology can automatically track patients conditions over time and alert clinicians of life-threatening problems, but it also requires absolutely reliable connectivity.
As use of telemetry applications expands, said Lorenc, hospitals need a wireless infrastructure that is simple to manage and that never loses or delays data.