Sydney hospital plans unusual wireless network

Summary:The Sydney Adventist Hospital (SAH) is planning to rollout a new wireless network for remote access to medical information within its wards, utilising the unpopular 802.11a standard to alleviate Wi-Fi blackspots.

The Sydney Adventist Hospital (SAH) is planning to rollout a new wireless network for remote access to medical information within its wards, utilising the unpopular 802.11a standard to alleviate Wi-Fi blackspots.

The solution was based on Nortel hardware and due to be implemented soon, the hospital's information systems manager Chris Williams told ZDNet Australia by telephone today.

The SAH is the largest not-for-profit private hospital in New South Wales, with 342 beds, some 2,000 staff and 500 medical practitioners.

The hospital's pharmacists will be the first beneficiaries of the network, with tablet PCs from Motion Computing linking them back into their existing medication dispensing system.

While most new wireless networks use the 802.11b and/or g standards, Williams said the SAH chose instead the more unpopular 802.11a standard.

"We wanted to make sure that we experimented with being able to get into the patients' rooms with our wireless network," he said. "And that meant more than three access points down a corridor."

"When you bring the [802.11b/g] access points close together, you get holes (we assume interference) where the network doesn't work, close to an access point."

Williams said in contrast, the 802.11a hardware had a greater number of transmission channels and eliminated the blackspots.

Nortel was chosen due to the hospital's existing relationship with the vendor. The SAH chose relatively new hardware which supported the WPA2 wireless encrytion standard.

"Where a lot of people use WEP-style security, we've gone for WPA2, and that was their [Nortel's] latest gear coming into the country," said Williams.

"They wanted to trial that anyway, so we were able to get hold of some equipment at a good price, to trial that wireless security network."

The network could eventually have wider applications than just pharmacist access, with Williams flagging an interest in providing wireless Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony services, as well as access by other medical practitioners such as doctors and nurses.

Keeping busy
When asked about other large IT projects, Williams' response was similar to that of most IT managers and chief information officers.

"I've counted up the things that we're supposed to be doing, there's about 50 on the list," he laughed.

He said for the last few years there had been big push within the hospital to improve access to technology to medical staff, to improve patient care. This trend was likely to continue.

For example, the SAH's radiology department now uses the new style of digital images that can be distributed throughout the hospital's different departments.

Like the CIO of Brisbane's Mater Hospital, Williams also anticipates the push for a national electronic health record standard for patient documentation will take up some of his time in future.

"The next thing would be to start to think about the electronic health record, that lots of other hospitals, state governments and the federal government have been thinking about and spending money on," said Williams.

He believes Australia is still a few years away from solving that problem, but said components of such a standard were starting to appear.

Like many organisations with privacy concerns, the SAH will also in future examine extra security through two-factor authentication systems and the like.

Checking out the Vista

Another current project on Williams' plate is upgrading the SAH's approximately 650 PCs from Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system to Windows XP.

Given this fact, Williams said the hospital was some time away from upgrading to the vendor's Windows Vista operating system, due late this year.

"Don't get me wrong, we're a Microsoft shop through and through," said Williams. "Our software development is in Microsoft Visual Basic.NET now, and we're a Microsoft SQL Server shop as well."

A primary concern for Williams is making sure the approximately 150 applications the SAH uses are supported on Vista. "Some of those products are only now working on XP," he said, noting a good number of those applications were built by third-parties.

However, Williams said Vista in general looked good from what he had seen of the operating system from product literature.

Topics: CXO, Microsoft, Networking, Software Development, Unified Comms, Wi-Fi, Windows

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