Hospitals team up for cost-saving VoIP strategy

When doctors and nurses in Chatham, Ont. do their rounds, they may soon be able to take phone calls and check electronic patient charts on the same device.

This is the vision of officials at the Chatham Kent Health Alliance (CHKA),

which recently completed a trial of 30 Internet Protocol (IP) phones and is combining its voice, video and IT systems on to the same network.

CHKA is comprised of two facilities — St. Joseph’s Hospital and Public General Hospital — in Chatham (located about 100 km east of Detroit) and the Sydenham District Hospital, located about 30 km away in Wallaceburg, Ont.

The alliance is building a 140,000 sq. ft. facility and plans to install 380 IP phones made by Cisco Systems Inc. Over the last few weeks, CHKA set up Cisco Unity unified messaging systems for about 350 users.

Jerome Quenneville, CHKA’s vice-president of finance and corporate services, said his organization is moving to voice-over-IP (VoIP) in order to help save money over the long term. He added it costs less money to operate one system than it does to operate two or three.

In addition to IP phones, CHKA staff are evaluating Cisco’s Softphone software, which lets users take voice calls on PCs and other devices. CHKA staff use Cisco Aironet wireless local-area network (LAN) cards on their machines.

“”We already have mobile devices that our nursing personnel use on the floors to do nursing documentation,”” he said. “”Why not adapt some of those devices to be able to bring in some voice capabilities?””

In the future, health care workers could look up information on IP phones, said Barry Burke, Cisco Systems Canada Co.’s regional director for the Ontario public sector.

“”I think what we’re seeing customers use the little screen on the phone for is to enable applications that are relevant what they’re trying to get done,”” he said. “”That could be delivering phone and employee directory information right to the phone screen, which isn’t done today.””

CHKA has integrated its Nortel Meridian private branch exchange (PBX) with its IP telephony system, which will run over the same network as its Citrix-based applications.

The phones are designed to ensure that voice packets are given priority over data packets once they leave the phone and enter the cabling.

Health practitioners can also conduct video conferences between Chatham and Wallaceburg. They can plug their devices into any data port in the building, Quenneville said, adding Bell Canada and several community organizations recently set up a 100 Mbps link between the two facilities.

In the past, hospital staff were able conduct video conferences but they could not use any LAN jacks in the buildings because the sites were connected by Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines.

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