Canadian hospital pumps wireless into care delivery

Kingston General Hospital on Monday called itself the first teaching hospital in Canada to integrate a wireless network with a point-of-care system that will control intravenous pumps, electronic medial records and Internet access in public areas across its facility.

Bell Canada is the primary vendor leading the project, which also involves equipment from Nortel Networks and Cisco, among others. Kingston General Hospital (KGH) is also expanding its wireless phone system beyond the intensive care unit, operating room and emergency departments where it started to all patient care areas.

Dr. Ellen Tsai, medical director of pediatric intensive care, said KGH’s medical safety working group has been eyeing so-called “smart pumps” for about three years and started implementing them last June. The integration of wireless capabilities means IV can be standardized across the hospital, she said.

“There are profiles built into the pumps, programmed remotely with the same library that can be altered at a moment’s notice,” she said. “We can upload info about mistakes, about how they’re being used.”

The medication library allows KGH to build in safeguards in case people are exceeding doses, Tsai said. For example, a caregiver could type “10” instead of “1,” but it could be caught in the system.

Dr. David Goldstein, medical director of KGH’s acute pain service, said the use of wireless technology should help increase productivity by more than 40 per cent and reduce near-renal failure (associated with kidney failures) by 20-30 per cent.

“To keep striving for excellence and walk away from mediocrity, we have to be collaborative, not just with care workers but with the patients,” he said. “In spite of all the hard work our IT people have done, we’re talking about saving people’s lives.” 

KGH president Joe De Mora said the long-term goal is to build the wireless phone system into its nursing units and become portable call terminals.

“In a bedroom or washroom, a nurse would push a call button and a text message could be sent directly to wireless telephone,” he said.

KGH has been using radio frequencies that doesn’t interfere with hospital equipment to communicate data for several years, De Mora said. The Queen’s University Anesthesiology Informatics Laboratory (QUAIL), which has been working to develop new technology for patient care since 1999, began using handheld computers to give doctors at KGH immediate access to medical information with about 46 access points.

Over time, providers at KGH will be able to access millions of different pieces of information which are difficult to manage today, said Bell Canada enterprise group vice-president Gary Cameron.

“It’s not just getting the right technology and the right partner, it’s putting it together in a way that delivers outcomes for the hospital,” he said. “We talk a lot about mission-critical, but this really can be the difference between living or not making it.”

TravelNet’s Data-Valet service will provide Wi-Fi access to main areas in KGH such as the lobby, out-patient clinics. Philippe Labrosse, TravelNet’s vice-president of technology, said the service could mean major changes in the maternity ward, for starters.

“Imagine global birth announcements through e-mail immediately after the baby is born,” he said.

Earlier this year, De Mora said KGH developed its own waiting list management software. The tool, called Access Rx, was created in-house by Kingston General IT staff and is now available to every surgeon in the organization, DeMora said.

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