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Feb 17 2016   2:36PM GMT

St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System: Modern mobile healthcare technologies

Posted by: adelvecchio
mHealth, Mobile devices, mobile health, mobile health implementation

High Res LeeGuest post by Lee Johnson, director of global marketing, NetMotion Wireless

St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System is one of the nation’s largest health systems. With more than 90 hospitals, 24 critical access facilities, home health agencies and a number of other health-focused facilities in 18 states, it has long been considered a pioneer in both medical procedures and technology implementations. The first successful human heart transplant in the United States was performed in its Texas Heart Institute. It was also among the first providers to deploy mobile healthcare technologies on a broad scale to better serve patients.

Almost a decade ago, St. Luke’s leadership realized that requiring nurses and physicians to gather at kiosk-style stations to retrieve and send patient information created slowdowns that negatively affected patient care. So the IT team launched a wireless network to provide clinicians with quick access to data whenever and wherever they needed it. This first, innovative wireless technology implementation would later lead St. Luke’s to develop a large-scale wireless network that has become a benchmark for the healthcare industry.

Growing pains
As St. Luke’s grew, increasing its workforce and adding multiple new buildings, it became apparent that the initial wireless pilot needed to evolve into to a more powerful multi-facility network. Wireless access points were installed throughout areas where instant access to information was important for patient care, such as the ER, central clinician stations and in hallways near patients’ rooms.

But hospital staffers often found that their connections to the network failed. “Clinicians using handheld devices had trouble maintaining their sessions while moving around the floors,” explained Gene Gretzer, senior analyst and wireless initiative project leader for St. Luke’s. “As doctors and nurses walked through areas where the wireless network was weak, such as long hallways, onto elevators, or through older areas in the hospital, they’d lose their network connection. This caused the legacy VPN [virtual private network] and applications to quit, requiring the clinicians to log in again, restart applications and re-enter any data that may not have been transmitted.” The situation frustrated busy doctors and nurses who felt that they were wasting time on devices that were supposed to be increasing their productivity.

St. Luke’s also had concerns about wireless security. Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) data protection standards mandate that healthcare providers take steps to ensure that patient data cannot be compromised by network (including wireless) vulnerabilities or left unprotected on devices that can be lost or stolen.

To address its network performance and security issues, St. Luke’s IT team turned to NetMotion Mobility. Mobility provides reliable, seamless network connectivity for St. Luke’s staff and also acts as a second firewall, preventing unauthorized devices from accessing the network.

As St. Luke’s wireless network has spread from a single, IP segment virtual LAN (VLAN) to a multi-facility network, Mobility enables the staff and caregivers at St. Luke’s to move around their facilities and get their work done without worrying about dropped connections. If a user passes through an area with poor network coverage, applications maintain their state and reconnect automatically and quickly (often in less than a second), enabling the user to pick up right where he or she left off.

Mobility allows clinicians to roam between different rooms, floors and buildings, seamlessly reconnecting their devices to the network and allowing them to have anywhere, anytime access to charting applications and patient records. Mobility’s management console gives the IT team the ability to centrally manage all of the devices their clinicians use. They receive real-time data on devices and users such as the applications being run, the amount of data transmitted, even the battery life of each device. And they can immediately quarantine a lost or stolen device from the network.

With a better understanding of Mobility’s impact, St. Luke’s IT team began looking for other hospital processes that could be improved. They determined that Mobility could keep the health system’s state-of-the-art mobile scanning and X-ray units better connected, increasing the upload speed of images and other data to the patient records database. “Clinicians are viewing neurologic studies and X-rays faster and visiting more patients during their rounds,” added Gretzer. “We have also reduced the time for a clinician to receive electronic X-rays from, in many instances, 30 to 45 minutes down to about one and a half minutes — allowing clinicians to diagnose issues and begin treatment faster.”

Today, St. Luke’s staff is accessing data via wireless devices in real-time, 24 hours a day. Physicians and nurses are using wireless laptops and tablet PCs to track and chart patient care. Clinicians dispense medicine after scanning barcodes on patient ID bracelets with wireless barcode scanners. Case managers access information on the fly as they verify patient records and coordinate services with insurances companies. And even the hospital’s nutritionists plan menus with patients and transmit those orders wirelessly to kitchen staff for later preparation.

The combination of mobile devices and reliable, secure wireless technology continues to offer a number of opportunities to improve the delivery of healthcare services. Thanks to Mobility, for St. Luke’s the promise of that technology has become a reality, improving operational efficiency and, most importantly, leading to better patient care.

Click here to review the entire St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System case study.

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