If doctors and nurses can't access vital clinical information at the point of care, all the advances in technology are futile. That reality was foremost in the minds of certain people at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. These people had been tasked to select a new clinical information system for the Center. Mickie Tisdale, director of systems and programming at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, explains.
"The hospital undertook in July 1996 a five-year project to more fully computerize the patient medical charts. Objectives included improving patient care quality and enhancing provider productivity. Giving the facility a competitive advantage was also a motivation, she added. Fred Brown, project manager for the radio frequency (RF) project at the teaching facility, put it another way. "We're implementing a system with as little paper as possible. In order to do that, we have to be able to capture information without scribbling it down and going back to keypunch it into the terminal."
Wireless Terminals Would Be Ideal For Patient Care
The committee knew that wireless terminals would be the ideal way to bring caregiver, patient and application access together. Several representatives of the Medical Center, including Fred Brown, attended a conference where they heard a speaker describe a possible solution. The speaker explained how Symbol Technologies' Spectrum24 wireless local area network (LAN) worked with the Lastword application at another hospital. The speaker's application used laptops with PCMCIA cards to access the wireless network. And the laptops had full keyboards and full screens. The speaker also noted that Spectrum24 is an open-architecture system designed to support the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standard.
New Wireless Solution Meets All Of The Requirements
Brown contacted Symbol and arranged for a demo. At Symbol's demo for the committee, members got a look at the wireless device, designed specifically for hospitals. The PPT 4340 includes the full screen and keyboard the committee sought. In addition, it has pen entry capability, a six-hour battery, and an integrated Symbol Spectrum24 radio card. The PPT 4340 is also sealed, so it is spill-resistant and may be disinfected, and it stands up to one-meter drops.
One concern was how the hospital's clinical staff would respond to the new system. Because of this concern, the committee elected to pilot the network and devices in one area of the hospital. Workers from other areas were then invited to use the system. Dr. Frederick Kahl, chairman of the Medical Center's Physician Advisory Group and associate professor of medicine (cardiology) at the Center, volunteered his unit for the pilot.
Technology Improves Care
"We're not used to having this much data so fast," Kahl observed. "It's going to affect how we do tasks day to day. We have a lot more data, so we should be able to provide better patient care." During the six-week pilot, the Medical Center tested both PPT 4340s and Hewlett-Packard laptops equipped with Symbol PCMCIA radio cards. The Center located a special cart that positions two laptops back to back, so the physician and residents can all view the screens as they conduct rounds. During the pilot, the IS staff held several open houses, so all nursing units and others could experiment with the system.
$2 Million Order For Terminals & Wireless Network
With the success of the pilot, the committee placed a $2 million order for Symbol PPT 4340s, 200 Symbol Spectrum24 cards for use in Hewlett-Packard laptops, and 250 Spectrum24 access points. With a Spectrum24 wireless network in place, "we will be able to provide accurate information faster to caregivers," Brown says. "They'll be able to access the information in real time and have it available at the patient's bedside." He adds that this improves the quality and nature of patient care. Residents and nurses will no longer need to scribble notes, only to re-enter them later. And residents will not need to spend hours pulling together results and research before rounds.