Wireless technology fits nurses' needs in infants' ICU

When nurses are dealing with a medical crisis in a neonatal intensive care unit, they're not in a position to run back to their desks and type data into clinical information systems.

Huntsville Hospital sought to deal with this reality by providing cost-effective computing services for nurses in a new renovated neonatal ICU.

The result is a highly mobile "computer on wheels," minus the heavy processing unit. The mobility enables nurses to provide a high level of care, while the design takes care of issues that plague mobile computing approaches, such as cost and power requirements.

The approach, which wirelessly links nurses' desktop computers to a monitor, mouse and keyboard at the bedside, has been in place a little more than a month, said Larry Walls, vice president and CIO at Huntsville Hospital.

Technology from Avocent Inc., Huntsville, enables the linkage. The company approached the hospital about looking for a way to use its technology in a clinical setting. As the hospital was remodeling a former for-profit hospital it acquired into a women and children's facility, executives saw the technology as a way to meet nurses' needs and fit the neonatal ICU's design.

"Like most hospitals, we're trying to figure out what kind of computing power to put in the hands of the nurse," Walls said. "The one that fits with our nurses best is some kind of cart; it gives them the ability to work on a chart without having to put their laptop or tablet down when they care for a patient."

It's expensive to put a laptop on a cart, and sometimes it duplicates the technology already on the nurse's desktop. Thin client approaches involve expensive licenses and the use of additional servers to support the networks.

With the wireless solution Huntsville selected, the carts contain a flat-panel monitor, keyboard, mouse and power supply. Because the mobile equipment needs less power than a desktop, the battery lasts longer, and the mobile unit is lighter.

Hospital staff can use the carts to access information on an Eclipsys Corp. system, although Huntsville eventually will move to the CareCast clinical system from IDX Systems Corp. Clinical information will be accessed from a simple-to-use browser, Walls said.

Wireless connectivity from the desktop PC also enables Huntsville to put the computers in one place. That saves money by keeping them secure and eliminating the chance that employees may load personal software on them. Keeping PCs in a few central locations makes it more convenient for IT staff to work on them, Walls said.

"On a neonatal ICU like this, it's difficult to take care of those PCs because they're in such a high-use, intense environment," he said. "With the PCs sitting in one of our closets, IT staff can go there and not worry about disturbing the clinicians."

The slimmed-down carts fit into the design of the neonatal ICU units and enable the clinician to stay with a baby throughout a work shift.

The technology also enables the PC to be off a nurse's crowded desktop. It replaces the PC with a "C-station" that provides links to the computing device. However, nurses have complained that they need a CD-ROM player so they can still use CDs for education.

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