Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust plans beacon network to provide location-aware patient services

Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust has upgraded its network infrastructure with a view to providing location-aware services to outpatients via wireless beacon technology.

Navigating labyrinthine hospital corridors is often a challenge for patients and can lead to delayed or missed appointments. The Plymouth trust’s large Derriford hospital building is no exception, with 200 wards spread over 12 floors.

The trust recently invested in upgrading its wireless network as part of plans to provide clinical staff with better access to digital patient records when using mobile devices. This involved the deployment of 530 access points and four HPE Aruba 6000 mobility controllers, as well as HPE's Aruba AirWave management tools.

The improved network will lead to benefits for patients too, according to Rob Harder, head of IT Infrastructure at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

The hospital already provides free Wi-Fi connections for patients and visitors, though this is limited to general internet access. Now it intends to create an mobile app that can automatically detect visitors upon arrival to the hospital building and direct them to specific wards.

“Coming to a hospital is distressing, so if you can make that simpler and easier for patients then why shouldn't we,” Harder told Computerworld UK.

“If it also helps us to ensure that they are at their appointment at the right time, so much the better for us, as it helps make the healthcare process more efficient.

“It is very easy to come in the wrong entrance and have a long walk through a maze of corridors and stairways, and traditional way-finding signs are just not really suitable and appropriate in the modern world.”

Creating a mobile app will enable the trust to provide more in-depth information to patients. “We also want to provide them with information that is pertinent to their treatment and to their recovery and to make their experience more enhanced.”

He added: “The new wireless infrastructure that we are buying from Aruba has beacon technology. We are making that investment in the access points with that sort of technology very much for the purpose of enabling location-based services.”

Access to digital records on the move

Like many NHS organisations, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust is in the midst of digitising its patient records, in order to put patient information in the hands of clinicians. Enabling access to this data on the move means that more and more of the hospital’s staff are becoming reliant on mobile devices, putting strain on its wireless network.

“We’re upgrading our local area network to increase its capacity,” said Harder.

“This will enable us to provide more effective wireless network access throughout not only our main hospital but all of the facilities that we provide healthcare to, and enable our staff and clinicians to be able to use mobile devices as effectively as possible.

“That requires robust, scalable, intelligent architecture to enable all of these facilities.”

The trust currently has around 1,500 mobile devices in use by all of its staff, including laptops, tablets and handheld devices. It also has a mix of Android and iOS smartphones and is considering putting a BYOD strategy in place.

The number of devices is expected to increase rapidly as clinicians access systems such as digital patient records and x-ray systems.

“Our main transformation challenge is to digitise our paper records into a document repository and then make that information available electronically through our IT system to our clinicians,” said Harder.

“Because of the nature in which that information is required at point of patient care, it has to be very mobile.”


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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