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Wireless leaders talk about hospital implementation

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Over the next five years, one of the game changers in health care will finally be technology, according to hospital officials at the West Health Institute in La Jolla.

Scripps Health and Palomar Health are incorporating wireless communication throughout their hospitals to keep doctors, patients and loved ones connected while lowering the total cost of the hospital’s IT infrastructure.

West Health's IDEA Series aims to unite industry leaders to figure out ways to lower health care costs. The inaugural event was held on Friday morning.

Despite being a “nail and hammer kind of guy,” Bruce Rainey, corporate vice president for facilities design and construction at Scripps Health, has learned he needs to be involved in the wireless integration piece from the start, otherwise the entire project won’t fit into the future.

“If you can get in early in the design you can design wireless in. If you don’t you’ve got to ram it in after the fact,” said Ed Cantwell, project lead, medical grade wireless utility at the West Health Institute.

Scripps Memorial Hospital’s $456 million Prebys Cardiovascular Institute in La Jolla will be seven stories tall when complete in 2015, featuring 383,000 square feet of space.

In the past, Rainey would hand off a finished building to Mark Wiesenberg, senior director of enterprise architecture at Scripps, without speaking in the process.

“Looking at the technology of the future, we are now joined at the hip in looking at the architecture of the building,” he said.

That includes keeping simple elements in mind, like avoiding full-height tile in a bathroom, which blocks a radio frequency signal.

“Various products we use in the building have to be considered now,” he said.

But spreading the message across the entire design team can be difficult, since Scripps has more than 150 active projects at any one time.

The Palomar Medical Center debuted in Escondido this year to much fanfare. The $956 million, 740,000-square-foot hospital stands 11 stories tall.

Paul Peabody, chief information officer of Palomar Health, wishes he had more time to implement wireless systems.

“We rushed to pull together some very complex systems in a very short period of time. I wish we had the time to run a few more pilots in our other two hospitals first to get experience, but we didn’t have the time,” he said.

One of the primary systems it put in place was an advanced nurse call system.

Traditional nurse call systems alert a nursing station, which then tries to find a nurse to answer a patient's need.

"Maybe you find them 15 to 20 minutes later, and maybe the patient already got the service or none at all,” Peabody said.

Palomar's advanced nurse call system has a schedule for every patient and will alert the right nurse that matches the patient’s needs.

For example, if a patient presses a button asking for water, an assistant nurse gets notified via an alarm on a cellphone.

“So that is something a nurse shouldn’t have to do,” he said.

If they don’t respond, the alarm will go to the next nurse up the line.

Communications are integrated through VoIP so each nurse and caregiver gets alerts via a wireless phone.

He admits there are some over-alerting issues, “which can drive the nurses pretty crazy,” and the system needs to be fine-tuned.

He also discussed ways wireless is being integrated into the outdoor healing gardens located on each floor of the hospital.

“The issue is when patients go out in the healing gardens we want to monitor them and their condition,” Peabody said.

They are working with Sotera Wireless Inc. to monitor their blood pressure and vital signs when they are outside and alert a nurse if something is wrong.

The hospitals have deployed a new reference architecture, developed by the West Health Institute, for the design, coverage and security of their wireless networks.

West Health's origins date back to 2009, when the Gary and Mary West Foundation started a nonprofit medical research organization with a $45 million grant.

West Health was introduced as an independent initiative in 2012, consisting of four entities: the West Health Institute (formerly West Wireless Health Institute), West Health Policy Center, West Health Investment Fund and West Health Incubator.

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