Hospital uses IP telephony to speed patient diagnostics

Long waiting periods for test results at the Chatham Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) in Chatham, Ont., will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new all-IP network.

With the new infrastructure, doctors and nurses will have the ability to notify patients of test results as soon as they come in. They will also be able to access X-rays and medical records from one electronic device and send them to other parts of the hospital where they can be put to use for surgeries and other medical procedures.

While these services are not in full force yet, they’re just three of the applications the hospital is looking at in order to improve patient care and services after the migration to the all-IP set-up is complete.

“A huge component of the quality care we deliver to patients is based on access to information,” said Jerome Quenneville, vice-president of finance and corporate services at CKHA. “Our vision is to be able to use our high-speed network to expedite patient information to medical staff more quickly and efficiently across all three hospitals.”

The CKHA is comprised of the Public General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chatham and Sydenham District Hospital in Wallaceburg, Ont. It serves 110,000 people in the municipalities of Chatham-Kent, South Lambton and Walpole Island. A staff of about 1,300 care for more than 173,000 patients annually.

Quenneville said the decision to migrate to IP was based on the fact that it will be cheaper to manage only one network. The infrastructure is being implemented and managed by Toronto-based Bell Canada Inc. and is based on Cisco Systems Inc.’s Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVVID) technology.

The migration to the all-IP network is occurring slowly, Quenneville said. Since completing a successful IP telephony pilot project, the CKHA will be installing 380 Cisco IP phones in a new 140,000-square-foot facility, with 200 being installed during the first phase. The IP network will be connected to their PBX networks in the rest of the Public General Hospital on the same campus and to another site about 30 kilometres away.

Quenneville said the CKHA will be looking to migrate the rest of the PBX networks to an IP network over the next several years.

The migration to IP will also allow the CKHA to implement the Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) that will allow physicians to view X-rays more efficiently.

“Working with a PACS system, it’s much easier for the physicians to be able to work with the images in the sense of being able to enhance the sizing and the focus on specific areas they’re concerned with,” Quenneville said. “It’s a lot easier than working the old plastic film in trying to do that type of interpretation. That certainly allows for a quicker turnaround, as well as giving those images to an operating room or the [Intensive Care Unit] where it’s needed for some specialty procedure.”

The CKHA is also looking to integrate the nurse-call system into the network so that when a patient hits a nurse call button, the request is directed to a wireless phone on the nurse’s belt. The nurse can discover what the patient needs immediately and only make one trip instead of running in to see the patient, leaving to get what they need, and returning.

A similar application is being explored so that doctors can be notified on their wireless devices when significant test results come back. That way, patients can be treated faster and discharged more quickly if their test results are fine.

Quenneville said that so far, there have been no pains involved in the migration from PBX to IP.

“It certainly seems to transition fairly easily for people, the training is fairly minimal and, for the most part, the basic phone application is the same,” he said.

He added that the portability of the IP phones is one main advantage.

“We don’t have to call Bell to switch or move a phone line from one room to another, you just unplug it from a wall, almost like a PC,” he said. “(If I) go down the hall, the network recognizes that it’s my phone, just like it recognizes it’s my PC when I plug it in. If there’s messages for me or phone calls, it will ring right to that handset.”

That is what Brantz Myers, enterprise marketing manager for Cisco Systems Canada, said is a main advantage of IP networks for campus environments, such as hospitals.

“(In campus environments) you have a lot of people who change their location frequently,” he said. “And in the old world of telephony, if you wanted to have a phone ring with your phone number in a different location it was a big deal. Your phone only rang where that jack was. But in the world of IP telephony, through our AVVID architecture, we’re able to provide a platform that wherever you plug your phone in, it will ring.”

Myers said staff would not even need to carry their IP phones with them but could use Softphone software, which lets users take phone calls on their PCs. The CKHA also uses Cisco Aironet wireless LAN cards on their machines.

As for security, Quenneville said the CKHA will be using password authentication; only IP devices registered for use within CKHA’s IP network would be able to access the system.