What worries Linda Weaver, chief technology officer, Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), about Voice over IP (VoIP) is not the technology itself but the stresses and strain it puts on a network infrastructure.

“[SSHA] is in a leased building that is very old [and] has very troubling LAN infrastructure. I worry that everyone looks at the applications without looking at the implications of rolling these things [such as VoIP] out into a healthcare environment,” she said during an ITAC Ontario roundtable discussion called “VoIP plans and implementation in hospitals” last Thursday.We are not rebuilding the network infrastructure, we keep adding stuff on them, they are going to break if we are not careful.Linda Weaver>Text Weaver added the sector is trying to cope with network infrastructures dating from the 1960s.

“We are not rebuilding the network infrastructure, we keep adding stuff on them, they are going to break if we are not careful,” Weaver said. She also questioned what would happen to VoIP telephone systems should the WAN or power go down. Would VoIP still be available? These are some questions that need to be addressed, she said. As well, Weaver pointed out that healthcare is severely under-funded with respect to IT.

Rejean Loisel, manager of technical services for Lakeridge Health in the Durham region of Ontario said healthcare has to realize the return on investment (ROI) for implementing a pure VoIP system before diving into the technology.

“The ROI [for VoIP] in healthcare is 26 months on average. Why would that be? It is infrastructure,” said Loisel, who converged Lakeridge’s traditional PBX with IP.

All the panellists present agreed a clear business case is needed in order for VoIP to be implemented in their organizations.

Steve Noyse, director of information and communication technology for Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said it can be hard to make a ROI case if one is looking to replace an existing switch with VoIP, but if one is placing the technology in a new building then it’s easier. At Mount Sinai, Noyse has three sites with VoIP technology and 550 wireless VoIP handsets deployed.

Noyse, Loisel and Weaver said one of the reasons their organizations moved over to VoIP was to help their staff be more mobile and virtual. Other factors panellists cited in influencing their decisions to move to VoIP were cost and scalability.

Not all panellists were sold on VoIP. Wayne Mills, vice-president and CIO of Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ont. proclaimed, “I don’t need Voice over IP.”

Mills’ reasoning behind such a statement is he believes the technology is not going to be a solution of all the issues health care faces.

“We have a very large program on the way called THINK (Transforming Health Care into Integrated Networks of Knowledge) network (a program that lets clinicians electronically search and retrieve all of a person’s health care records) in Trillium. This will enable the transformation of health care we believe needs to happen,” Mills said.

However, Mills does acknowledge his organization will probably need to move over to VoIP in the next few years.

Related links:

Alberta Cancer Board counting on VoIP

Laboratory gives voice over IP a second chance

Self-assessment key to VoIP

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