Physicians treating patients at Central DuPage Hospital, west of Chicago, will be able to use an Internet-enabled personal digital assistant phone to access patient data either at home or within the hospital itself, thanks to a new wireless network upgrade and the use of a public cell phone data network.
In addition, patients can keep in contact with their physicians, family members and friends via the hospital's hybrid wireless Internet system.
Jim Thompson, M.D., medical director of informatics and an emergency room physician at the 361-licensed bed hospital, said Central DuPage might be a bit ahead of the curve. Only an estimated 10% of the 700 or so community physicians with privileges at the hospital pack PDAs, although maybe 30% of the 200 physicians who are most active at the hospital use PDAs.
"You might consider it an effort on our part to peg where the market was going to go," said Thompson. "We want to beat the curve. The next time they go out and choose a PDA or a PDA phone, they'll be able to get their data on it."
The new system debuted last week.
Central DuPage Hospital has had wireless communications within its walls since the early 1990s and a wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, network operating off the now-common 802.11b standard for more than three years, Thompson said.
That system allows for a host of wireless applications, including patient registration, nursing documentation and the retrieval of patient information through wireless-enabled computers placed within the hospital.
But physicians wanting to use their own laptops and PDAs, so-called "untrusted devices," to access the data were locked out by the difficulty of finding and fitting them with the right Internet access cards, Thompson said.
Last fall, Thompson said he heard of an innovation by Cisco Systems, whose software runs the hospital's wireless network, that would allow the access points within the hospital to run multiple wireless channels -- called virtual local area networks, or VLANs -- instead of just one.
The hospital used the innovation to boost the number of its VLANs to three, Thompson said.
One network keeps running the hospital's traditional closed wireless communications system; another is used as a Wi-Fi connection system for physicians armed with their own portable devices (which are provided with encryption keys and passwords) to access hospital data. A third VLAN is for patient and visitor access to the Internet. For $6.95 a day, Sprint, a partner in the technology upgrade, will offer an introductory unlimited Wi-Fi Internet access.
Patient information, including lab results, demographics, patient histories and vitals, is displayed on a PDA using a McKesson Information Solutions software application called Horizon Mobile Care Rounding. Thompson said the system would work on a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or a PDA with either a Palm or an iPAQ operating system.
In addition, physicians inside or outside the hospital could use portable devices like cell-phone-enabled PDAs to connect to hospital data anywhere within cell phone range.
Finally, Sprint added 160 signal-relay ports within the hospital to enable Sprint cell phones to work anywhere within the hospital's thick walls.
Thompson and two of his colleagues are doing the handholding while they roll out this latest improvement.
"The good thing is, this is an optional way to get information, it's not the only way," he said. "The support needs for that kind of system are not so large."
The handheld Wi-Fi applications can call up lab results within two or three seconds compared with using a Web-enabled cell phone in which the response time is about five seconds, Thompson said. Since the typical use is to check one information item at a time, "it's way faster than wandering over to a computer at the nursing station and logging on to pull up your data," Thompson said.