Toronto hospital deploys wireless VoIP

Nursing at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) has just become a little easier, with the implementation of a wireless voice-over-IP (VoIP) network integrated into the nurse call system.

Right now there are cords or buttons attached to beds in hospitals, which patients can press or pull if a nurse’s assistance is needed. There are also buttons in rooms for staff to press in case of emergencies. When one of these is activated, the request is transferred to the nursing station in that section and the nurse is tracked down either through paging, through an overhead intercom, said Dave Eagan, architect for infrastructure development at the University Health Network.

With the new wireless VoIP system, when a patient calls for a nurse, the nurse is notified on a specialized handset – the 802.11 NetLink wireless telephone by SpectraLink Corp. – via a text message, telling him him or her which patient requires aid. NetLink phones also behave like real phones, so nurses can receive regular calls and a caller only needs to dial the nurse’s extension instead of performing a time-consuming page.

The TGH is part of the University Health Network in Toronto, along with the Toronto Western Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital. So far the University Health Network has deployed the wireless VoIP network in the operating rooms (ORs) and in in-patient areas in the new building on the TGH campus. Eagan says the rest of the University Health Network will receive wireless VoIP over the next two and a half years.

Eagan said the most challenging aspect of the deployment was dealing with five vendors for one solution.

While SpectraLink provided the handsets, Toronto’s GlobeStar Systems Inc. provided its ConnexALL software for text messaging that integrates with Rauland-Borg Corp.’s Rauland Responder 4000 nurse call system. TGH is using Cisco Systems’ Aironet wireless access points (WAPs), and antennas from L.Comm Inc. to evenly distribute the signal while Bell Canada is the service provider.

With security of big concern with wireless networks, Eagan said the network is secured by a variety of encryption methods, and the hospital is looking to buy a campus security solution. However, the network can detect if an unauthorized device is attempting to link up to it.

Right now there are 150 NetLink phones being used in the network. “Our wireless phones are you used a lot in [hospitals] because you have a very mobile workforce,” said Ben Guderian, director of marketing at SpectraLink in Boulder, Colo.

Guderian said SpectraLink’s NetLink phones can connect either to traditional PBXs or IP-based PBXs, and the phones weigh about six ounces, have larger earpieces than traditional cellphones are more durable in case they are dropped.

Eagan said the nurses at the hospital subjected the phones to a three-foot drop test and the phones endured “fabulously.”

The future of voice over IP

A recent Frost & Sullivan study found that the voice-over-IP (VoIP) test equipment market will balloon to revenues of US$221.3 million by 2009, suggesting that VoIP is on the rise. But industry observers float different opinions.

A variety of factors contribute to VoIP’s slow uptake:

Many organizations – both large and medium enterprises – already upgraded their network systems during the Year 2000 crisis.

VoIP represents a cost that many companies would, given current conditions, rather avoid.

Moving to IP telephony literally means ripping out the existing phone system and starting anew.

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