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March 1, 2010

Wireless Technology Transforms Patient Care
By Annie Macios
For The Record
Vol. 22 No. 4 P. 8

Because a hospital is a 24/7 environment, it requires healthcare providers to be connected at all times as they make critical patient care decisions. As a solution to improve connectivity and drive quality and productivity, GE Healthcare has developed a series of wireless products that it hopes will change how facilities monitor patients while at the same time promoting the exchange of healthcare information.

Munesh Makhija, general manager of GE Healthcare Systems and Wireless, notes that the growing demand for wireless technology in the healthcare arena is due to several factors. “One thing we see as we talk to customers is a resounding message that highlights three challenges,” he says. “First, there is a patient population that is sicker than ever before. Second, the caregiver population is becoming scarcer. The third challenge involves regulatory pressures—for example, pay for performance and regulatory agencies that make the way hospitals operate more public. All these factors challenge facilities to improve performance and workflow.”

Interfacing wireless technology with patient monitoring devices enables caregivers to make quick, reliable, point-of-care decisions throughout a facility. “This technology is available for use in almost every department—ED, OR, ICU, the general ward—depending on what care is being given at that time or place,” Makhija says.

GE Healthcare’s mobile viewers offer clinicians remote access to up-to-the-moment information that allows them to closely monitor a patient’s condition from almost anywhere inside or outside the hospital using Web-enabled PCs, wireless laptops, tablet PCs, or cell phones. In addition, a single, integrated, wireless platform enables critical patient data to be securely coordinated, managed, and distributed. “And when an upgrade is needed or new services need to be added, rather than reconfiguring cables through ceilings and walls, which can cause a lot of disturbance in a facility, the antenna system is upgraded in an IT closet simply and easily,” says Makhija.

While GE Healthcare’s telemetry system offers dependable communication of vital patient information throughout a facility, another tool connects real-time patient monitoring data to EMRs, diagnostic images, lab results, and third-party devices to support efficient clinical decision making.

The value of transmitting data from the monitoring system directly into an EMR can’t be underestimated, says Makhija. “And as hospitals mature in the deployment of EMRs and use electronic information for decision making, wireless technology improves flexibility because basically no matter where the patient monitor is, as long as it is connected to the network, it can interface with the EMR,” he notes.

In this system, Makhija says staff productivity typically increases because they are delivering patient care instead of searching for information. In turn, more time spent with patients could lead to lower overall costs.

Dlynn Melo, RN-BC, director of clinical informatics at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Ind., knows firsthand the value of deploying wireless patient monitoring technology. The acute care teaching hospital has been using cardiac monitoring since the 1980s and was looking for ways to integrate patient monitoring data with nursing charts and other communication devices. As a result, it implemented GE Healthcare’s array of solutions in March 2009.

“Cardiac telemetry is used throughout the entire hospital, except for the [emergency department], with a centralized monitoring station for capturing patients’ EKGs. So a patient could be in oncology or in our 10-story tower, but they are covered through the central monitoring station,” says Melo. In addition, mobile viewers enable caregivers to securely view the EKG from anywhere in the facility.

Taking it a step further, the facility’s ICU and cardiac ICU deploy bedside monitors that display many other types of patient-specific information in addition to EKGs, including pulse-oximetry, respiratory function, and invasive monitoring pressures. The data are sent to a server that is interfaced with the facility’s hospital information system and then made available for remote access on Web-enabled PCs.

“So doctors can view data from any computer using mobile viewers for any ICU, cardiac ICU, or telemetry patient. Having that remote access is so helpful in the management of patient care,” Melo says. That same data can be placed in the hospital’s EMR to be reviewed, verified, and charted by nurses, a feature Ball Memorial found to be essential as it looks to evolve into an even more electronic environment.

Patient safety is another care aspect that has been affected by Ball Memorial’s adoption of wireless technology. “The integration software takes alerts and sorts them by patient and caregiver. When a life-threatening alert happens, within 10 seconds it takes the alarm and sends it to the nurse that is assigned to that patient, telling them what type of alert it is,” says Melo. The nurse can then respond or defer it to the next nurse if he or she is already with a patient.

The technology is also available in the ICU and cardiac ICU, where it can alert staff in the event that a ventilator becomes disconnected, as well as provide notification of unexpected “bed exits” that may lead to high-risk patients being injured in a fall. “We’ve seen fall rates decrease and patient quality scores increase,” Melo says. “Patients love having the nurses closer to them because nurses no longer need to be in one place overseeing patient monitors, but rather they have the information available to them remotely.”

Melo notes healthcare today is much different from that of the past when acquiring the latest technology was more of a luxury for facilities. “There is no reason not to be wise users of technology. Facilities must deploy technology that ultimately contributes to improved patient care,” she says.

In today’s budget-conscious times, how does a provider dip its toe into the wireless technology sector? Makhija recommends beginning with mobile viewers, which provide the ability to wirelessly exchange information through a facility’s current IT infrastructure.

“The ability for a caregiver to have almost instant access to all of a patient’s information is very valuable. It falls in line with the goals set forth by GE Healthcare to get the best information to caregivers at the right place and right time so that the best patient care decisions can be made,” he says.

— Annie Macios is a freelance writer based in Doylestown, Pa.