IT director, IHA

The nurses in the maternity ward at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, in Vernon, B.C. used to find their wireless devices, the Nortel Companion system, bulky and heavy to carry around.

“The only way they could carry these phones was by strapping on a holster [and] this was not popular with the nurses. [The Nortel Companion phones] ended up in boxes and hardly used. But [the nurses] still wanted a wireless communication system,” said Roy Southby, the director of IT for the Kelowna, B.C.-based Interior Health Authority (IHA).

In December 2003, Southby began talks with Culpertino, Calif.-based Vocera Communications about providing his facilities with a replacement to its Nortel system. Vocera presented its Vocera Communications System, a hands-free, voice-controlled badge with a response time of seconds versus minutes when a healthcare professional is paged. In April 2004, three of the facilties in the IHA, including Vernon Jubilee, had the Vocera system implemented. The others include Overlander Extended Care in Kamloops, B.C. and 100 Mile District Hospital in 100 Mile House, B.C.[Nurses] are not tied down to a nursing station…They feel they are more freed up for patient care.Roy Southby>Text With the Vocera badges, users are able to immediately reach other users directly, either by name, function or extension, with a push of a button or page according to groups such as those on the code blue (cardiac arrest) team or nurses in a specific ward, instead of paging the entire hospital.

As well, the device, which works on the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard and causes no interference with other hospital equipment, weighs only two ounces and nurses can wear them on a lanyard around their neck or clip them on a pocket. According to Victoria Holl, director of marketing for Vocera, the device can save up 3,400 hours in productivity time per nursing unit per year.

“[Nurses] are not tied down to a nursing station, they know they can be contacted anywhere in the zone [the badge] covers. They feel they are more freed up for patient care,” Southby said about the benefits of the Vocera badges.

However, he said, there were some challenges to the Vocera communication system. First, staff had to be constantly trained on the system as staff turnover was high in some facilties. But once trained, nurses didn’t want to give up the device, he said.

Another issue in Overlander, was dead spots where additional access points had to be installed.

Aside from nurses, other users include administration staff, porters and maintenance staff. All badges are tied to a single server housed in Kelowna and the Vocera system can support up to 500 users on a single server (the IHA facilities have about 250 users using the badges at one time). As well, the badges are capabable of full telephony integration. For example, Southby said, at each site in the IHA there are gateway servers tied to the local telephone PBX, so internal and outside telephone calls can be made to and from the Vocera badges to a desktop phone.

Last month, IBM Canada demonstrated the device for healthcare professionals around Ontario and also announced it has entered into a partnership agreement with Vocera to help bring the Vocera Communication System to Canada.

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Related links:

Unplug and play: Uniting mobile devices, PBXs

Boston hospital will track assets with wireless system

Nortel’s offering takes a bite at Domino’s

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