Magazine Article | October 1, 2002

Mobile Computing Makes Its Rounds

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

For those who need up-to-the-minute access to data, wireless mobile computing is just what the doctor ordered.

Integrated Solutions, October 2002

While the PC may have revolutionized the way business is conducted, the PC's stationary nature does not lend itself to helping us capture data out in the field where much data is generated. Whether your company has drivers capturing pickup and delivery information or you run a warehouse/distribution center, the PC alone just isn't adequate to meet your needs. So, now you have a choice: capture information with pen and paper or find a way to extend your PC to your workforce. St. Agnes Healthcare (Baltimore) chose the second option - too often the road less traveled - and is finding that it is making all the difference.

Avoid Redundant Data Entry
Nurses and clinicians at St. Agnes Healthcare used to have to record patient information on a paper document and then transcribe that information into the hospital's MEDITECH application at a nurses' station or other room with a PC. Furthermore, if physicians needed to access patient records they would have to physically pull each patient's file and wade through reams of paper before getting to the pertinent information. The IT staff at St. Agnes, led by CIO William Greskovich, IT Director Larry Lawson, and Senior Manager of Applications Debbie Reilly, began setting up a due diligence process for implementing a wireless mobile computing solution at the hospital. "We had four main criteria for choosing the right vendor and solution," recalls Lawson. "First, we wanted to work with a vendor that was familiar with healthcare regulations such as HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996]. Second, we wanted to work with only one vendor for the hardware, software, and any special implementation or integration needs that might arise." Besides the two main needs for the vendor, St. Agnes had two additional requirements that the solution had to meet. "It had to give our users real-time access to data," says Lawson. "Additionally, it had to be extremely secure because of the nature of the data being sent over the airwaves."

A Multifaceted Mobile Solution
St. Agnes found the best fit with InfoLogix (Bensalem, PA), a provider of mobile wireless computing hardware and consulting services. InfoLogix worked with the hospital administrators and staff members to help create a solution that met everyone's needs. When all was said and done, St. Agnes was able to assemble a best-of-breed solution that comprised Stinger Care Station Carts, Fujitsu laptops, Compaq iPAQ PDAs (personal digital assistants), and an InfoLogix wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure. "We chose the Stinger mobile cart because of its versatility and security features," recalls Lawson. "Our laptop of choice was based primarily on its ability to run 20 hours on one battery. Most laptop batteries only have a 3-hour life before needing to be recharged." The final component, the Compaq iPAQ, was chosen by the physicians. Unlike other PDAs that download data onto the device, the iPAQ allows users to access data through a wireless card. This means that if a device gets into the wrong hands, no one can view sensitive data on the device without having access to the network.

Because sensitive patient information would be sent over the airwaves, St. Agnes took every precaution possible to make sure that information wouldn't get into the wrong hands. "We use 128-bit WEP [wired equivalent privacy] data encryption - the highest available level of WLAN security," says Lawson. "Additionally, we have multiple levels of identification and authentication built into our application." If, for instance, an unauthorized user was able to get hold of one of the iPAQs before the device timed out (after 30 seconds of inactivity) from the network, the user would need the correct user name and alphanumeric code to access the hospital's applications.

Seeing (In Real Time) Is Believing
The only challenge with rolling out the solution was determining where to put all the WLAN access points. Because of various radio signal obstacles such as walls and metal devices, Lawson had to walk each hall of the building to find the best reception area. "Overall we ended up installing 100 access points throughout our campus, which enables users to have always-on connectivity from building to building," says Lawson. The solution went over well with both nurses and physicians. The nurses use laptops that are secured on mobile carts and contain templates, which ensure easier data entry as well as properly completed forms. Physicians are able to save hours a day by not having to pull patient records. Now they can access data on their PDAs and use search functions to find specific patient information.

St. Agnes is currently investigating ways to enhance its mobile solution by enabling physicians and nurses to access images such as X rays on their mobile devices. This feature would not be used during the diagnosis phase, but rather for the purpose of educating patients and reminding clinicians of previous diagnoses.