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Cisco Systems Inc. wants to be more than a networking equipment manufacturer, which is why it has expanded into servers and unified communications.

Similarly, it wants to be known in verticals and not just in the data centre. Its latest move to that end is a partnership with a Calgary hospital and the provincial health authority.

This week Cisco Canada announced it will donate equipment to a special floor dubbed the “ward of the 21st century” (W21C) at Foothills Medical Centre that for the past decade has been a proving ground for new technologies and medical approaches.

Initially, the equipment will be used to help create a “patient room of the future,” Dr. Peter Sargious, Alberta Health Services’ executive lead the W21C initiative in W21C, and an associate professor in the University of Calgary medical school’s W21C program, said in an interview.

For example, the room would have an entertainment system that could deliver education videos on demand to a patient.

But the partnership could also examine how clinicians could use video collaboration with offsite experts, or how the hospital’s electronic medical record system could be made available to a patient to help deliver care.

“We’re looking for a company like Cisco to help us create the infrastructure through which we can re-think how we do a number of things in terms of health care delivery,” Sargious said.

Shanti Gidwani, Cisco Canada’s national senior director for healthcare services, said the manufacturer has had a relationship for some time with Alberta Health Services, which runs many of the hospitals in the province and buys equipment.

“The idea is not only did we want to give back to Alberta Health Services,” she said, “but also to foray more deeply into clinical transformation” through donated technology.

She admitted that enterprises don’t usually think of Cisco and clinical transformation, but the company offers a number of clinical solutions. So, she said, part of the collaboration is to create that awareness.

“For us this is very exciting,” she said “and it represents a new conversation Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] is having with health care organizations. It’s not just having basic infrastructure, it’s about clinical transformation.”

It will include the creation of the Alberta Health Innovation Centre (HIC), a virtual hub spearheaded by Cisco that will showcase technology-based health care solutions. The W21C will be one of its main sources.

The ward largely looks like any other, Sargious said, but its purpose is to allow UofC researchers to test new ways of delivering clinical care, some of which involve technology.

“We tried to bring best evidence from things like infection control and how people move through the ward in the design itself,” he said, “but far more importantly than the physical aspects of the ward is creating a mind-set that every day to day activity that happens on the ward could be something we study.”

Some technology has been successful, others not.

For example, the ward tested the Vocera Communications System, which includes a wireless badge staff can wear to wirelessly talk to each other. It was deemed worthy enough that now it has been deployed in all Calgary hospitals.

On the other hand a test putting RFID tags on medical charts, which often get mislaid, was a failure: The signals put out by the wireless tags didn’t give enough granular location detail.

Gidwani hopes the first project under the collaboration will start in a few months.



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