Rural practice goes with wireless

When a new physicians group formed last September at Four Counties Health Services (FCHS), a 16-bed hospital in Newbury, Ont, a town 40-minutes outside of London, Ont., it turned to wireless technology to help its family practice clinic leverage the FCHS network while having its own network to improve the efficiency of patient care.

“We were trying to create a modern technologically advanced clinical physician practice and felt using wireless technology was the next step for the practice,” said Sarah Padfield, site manager for FCHS.

NexInnovations, Inc., the Mississauga, Ont.-based technology service provider helped implement in January of this year a Cisco wireless system to give FCHS’ family practice clinic a wireless local area network (WLAN).

The physcians group, comprised of three doctors and two nurse practioners, uses the WLAN with tablet PCs for all of its charting and record management with the goal that all charts be converted to an electronic format by the end of this year.

One benefit of the WLAN, Padfield said, is FCHS is getting closer to becoming a paperless environment. Some of the doctors in the group have even taken the tablet home and remotely connected to the network to work on patient charts.

As well, she added, the wireless system has been implemented hospital-wide so the tablet PC can be used not only in the clinic but also in areas of the hospital like the emergency department.

To help prepare FCHS for a wireless environment, Dwayne Howden, managing consultant, solutions with NexInnovations, said a wireless readiness asessment was conducted that not only determined the type, the kind and where access points needed to be, but also ensured approriate security protocols.

While the WLAN is a private area for the clnicians group, Padfield stressed it is not a separate and distinct network from the hospital’s but a subset.

Currently, only physicians and staff in the group have access to the WLAN database that contains anything family physicians used to keep in paper charts.

The hospital network has been set up to use the WLAN to access hospital information and databases, but not information on the family clinic database.

Right now information doesn’t flow between the two databases. The reason for separate access is that data on both databases must remain private. But Padfield hopes in about three years both will be integrated.

Another area, which Padfield hopes to have interfaced in about five months time, is the picture archiving communications system (PACS), which FCHS implemented last month.

“Physicians are interested in and asking us to aggressively pursue, as it is one of the pieces [they] to continue to receive in paper,” she said.

One of the big benefits in going wireless and in investing in technology like PACS, said Padfield, is FCHS is able to attract and retain physicians to its rural hospital, which has proven difficult in the past.

“People always envision rural as being backward or having no access to the same type of technology or equipment as they might have in an academic or more urban setting,” she said.

“Young physicians coming into the marketplace utilize technology on a daily basis when they are going through school. They don’t necessarily want to go backwards in time. When working with someone who utilizes technology to the fullest, they want to go to places that actually have it,” added Howden.

As for the future, Padfield wants to fully maximize the WLAN and hopes to add Wi-Fi and Voice over IP capabilities as well as wireless connection to local pharmacies for prescription orders, but said she has to be careful as to not to corrupt the system.

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