Context-aware mobility: What is it and how will it change the business world?

Employees can save time by more quickly finding goods on warehouse shelves or supplies buried in storage closets

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With context awareness, the hospital's asset-tracking initiative has gone from so-so to highly effective in enabling nurses to pinpoint supplies, Adams says. In the early days of asset tracking, nurses could detect device availability but still needed to spend precious time rummaging through any number of storage closets on the floor. And all too often, the application would show a stash of infusion pumps on the sixth floor when in reality they were stored two levels below, says Adams. He attributes that problem to the hospital's first-generation wireless network, which at the time was not location-grade.

"Because we were such early adopters, we and others didn't understand how critical the back-end wireless infrastructure is to asset tracking," Adams says.

For the initial location-aware wireless deployment, TMH had selected omnidirectional antennas, with the intent of covering multiple floors and lots of square footage from a single access point. But by 2008, it was apparent that the antenna coverage was an issue and that an overhaul was in order, Adams says.

TMH recently evolved its asset-tracking system to AeroScout's asset-tracking software running on top of a context-aware, Cisco-based wireless infrastructure. The infrastructure includes the year-old MSE, which hosts the Cisco Context-Aware Software module for capturing, storing and analyzing contextual information.

TMH made several adjustments in the new wireless infrastructure, designed with the help of integrator Radiant Networks. For one, it changed from an omnidirectional to a high-gain directional patch antenna. In doing so, it flattened out RF propagation, providing the ability to focus radio signal coverage on each floor and reduce interfloor interference. It also deployed one-generation-newer access points (AP), moving from the Cisco 1230 to the 1242, and decreased the AP power output to better define RF propagation, Adams says.

In addition, TMH increased the density of APs, which now number about 545, up from 250, and moved the devices from the center to the perimeter of the floor. "So now every AP fires into the hospital rather than just providing an omnidirectional sphere," Adams adds. Because the new infrastructure often tracks assets to within six feet of their locations, nurses now typically have to search no more than two storage areas.

Adding in context awareness has led to improved patient care, increased productivity for the nursing staff and lower spending on medical devices, Adams says. The success for this application has prompted the hospital to look at how else it might take advantage of context-aware technology, he adds.

For instance, the hospital is running a proof-of-concept test to see if it can eliminate manual recording of refrigeration temperatures by tagging the coolers and sending readings over the context-aware network to the MobileView software every 10 minutes. Should temperatures drop below a prescribed point, appropriate personnel would receive alerts on their mobile devices, Adams says. Based on the results of this pilot, the hospital would extend its monitoring presence to other systems, he adds.

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