Government Technology

Localized Mobility

March 9, 2005 By

Though cell phones have become ubiquitous in recent years, some environments have more specialized communications needs. Several schools, hospitals and other government entities have deployed voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) via Wi-Fi networks to accommodate workers who are mobile within local environments.

In New Jersey, New Brunswick Public Schools (NBPS) uses VoIP on the district's existing Wi-Fi networks to keep on-site staff communicating, even in places where cell phones lose signals -- and saved the district in ongoing cell phone costs.

In Sacramento, Calif., UC Davis Medical Center deployed hundreds of badges capable of voice-activated calling so hospital staff can more efficiently reach the personnel necessary for patient care.

Mobilizing Patient Care

Wireless VoIP deployed over a Wi-Fi network is just what the doctor ordered for the UC Davis Medical Center.

Typical cell phones are not safe in hospitals, said Thomas Tinstman, associate director of clinical information systems for UC Davis Medical Center. In very rare instances, cell phones can cause interference with some patient care devices, a problem not found with VoIP on a Wi-Fi network.

More than a year ago, Tinstman said, the hospital began testing wireless VoIP devices in the operating room, where staff traditionally relied on intercoms, pagers, and "look and shout" to get the staff and supplies they needed.

The devices were extremely useful in helping OR staff get the appropriate supplies and staff to the OR when needed, said Tinstman.

As a result of the pilot's success, the hospital began distributing Vocera wireless VoIP badges to all mobile hospital employees involved in patient care. He said the Vocera devices, which are nearly hands-free, fit the many levels of mobility of hospital staff, from nurses -- who care for several patients within a unit and occasionally must leave the unit -- to phlebotomists, physical therapists and others involved with patients across many units.

"The nurse taking care of a patient is attempting to communicate with all of the appropriate people to coordinate the care of their four or five patients, and the typical way of solving that problem has been page and call back," he explained. "But if you page somebody, you've got to stand there and wait until they call back."

Staff needn't remember or look up numbers to contact necessary staff members; they can simply push a button on the device and request the person by name. They can also reach personnel by job title, said Tinstman.

"I can say, 'Give me the nearest respiratory therapist,' and it will ring the device of a respiratory therapist who is at an access point nearest to the one I'm calling from."

Tinstman said this capability is configured into the server. When mobile employees arrive for work, they request to be enrolled in the appropriate work category.

"I would call in and say, 'Enroll me in the respiratory therapy group for floor six,' and then any nurse on floor six says, 'Call respiratory therapist for floor six,' and it gives you that person."

Device users can also verbally request an outside line and make calls by saying the desired phone number.

One concern about using the devices in this environment is privacy because nurses sometimes discuss private patient information, said Tinstman, but the problem is easily remedied by connecting a standard cell phone headset to the device.

"Any of a large number of types work," he said. Because intercom-style in the most convenient way to use the badges, Tinstman said staff often wear the headset without plugging it in. "If they get a call where they don't want it broadcasting, they just plug their headset in."

Maximizing the Network

The network on which

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