Four Counties Health Services prescribes wireless LAN

A southwestern Ontario health-care facility has deployed a $56,000 wireless network that will help it reduce its paper usage by 75 per cent and recruit and retain physicians.

Mississauga, Ont.-based consulting firm NexInnovations

installed access points, a wireless local area network (LAN) and main routing and management facilities from Cisco Systems to a new family practice clinic operated by primary care facility, Four Counties Health Services (FCHS). Serving 23,000 people in Middlesex, Elgin, Chatham-Kent and Lambton counties, Newbury, Ont.-based FCHS provides emergency care, diagnostic services, rehabilitation and outpatient care services.

With the new wireless infrastructure, which was implemented at the clinic’s site in January, clinicians are now able to chart all of their patients electronically on their Tablet PCs — the hospital is also looking into using PDAs — and have remote access to the hospital information system from anywhere in the building. In addition to using electronic medical records and lab results, the wireless network will also help eliminate film by using electronic X-rays.

“We were able to leverage the implementation of that system to cover the entire hospital,” said Sarah Padfield, site manager at FCHS. The Four Counties Hospital has 16 beds, an emergency department, several outpatient clinics and a physiotherapy department.

Federal government programs like Canada Health Infoway, whose mandate is to create a nationwide electronic health-care record, are driving projects like this in the health-care sector. Todd Irie, director of sales at NexInnovations, said the high-tech consulting and integration company is seeing “a lot of growth” in its business in the health-care industry.

Irie said centralization is key for a rural hospital like FCHS to service its patients in an economical fashion.

“To have access to dynamic information at the point of care with a centralized secure network is one way to do that,” said Irie. “That’s why we’re seeing a lot of interest in this type of project.”

Aside from the benefits for clinicians, adding new technology to the site is a boon for the hospital’s recruitment strategy, Padfield said. Rural hospitals like FCHS are experiencing a physician labour shortage as many of them don’t feel these hospitals can provide the same level of collaboration and support as larger hospital networks, according to FCHS.

“It’s a huge benefit for our recruitment efforts,” said Padfield. “What we can offer and what the technology is allowing us to offer is 21st century medical practice.”

As a member of the Thames Valley Hospital Partnership, FCHS has to follow a set of protocols set out and agreed upon by the eight hospitals in the Thames Valley region, including London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s.

“We had to ensure the configuration of the network was going to adhere to the security protocols that we’ve agreed upon as a regional partner,” said Padfield, adding that one of the challenges was the application software the clinic is using isn’t supported by the hospital. “We needed to be able to provide their vendor (Clinicare) with remote access to their electronic medical record system through our wireless network.”

FCHS is also currently part of a Canada Health Infoway project to implement digital radiology PACS systems throughout the Thames Valley region for which it hopes to be the pilot site in the fall. The hospital went live with the core system in July and hopes to eventually give clinicians VPN access to the PACS system in the new year.

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