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Case Study: Hospital Uses WLAN To Provide Better Patient Care

Wi-Fi is everywhere. You can surf the Web when buying coffee, waiting for an airplane, or snacking on a hamburger. In those instances, wireless technology is a great convenience, helping people to be productive rather than idle. But wireless technology can also save lives.

As the CIO at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, my primary objective is to implement the right technologies to help our doctors, nurses, and support staff better serve our patients. The hospital is constantly assessing which applications can best serve our day-to-day requirements, and what underlying equipment is required to keep them running smoothly. At a time when health care is predicated on mobile access to online information, wireless technology has proven indispensable to health care at Overlake, as it has at many hospitals around the country.

Located in Bellevue, Wash., Overlake is a 253-bed, not-for-profit medical center offering advanced services to the Puget Sound region. The hospital, ranked among the top 100 heart programs in the nation, employs more than 2,200 people and has more than 800 active and courtesy physicians on staff. As a premier medical center, IT is critical to offering the highest level of service to our patients, physicians, and staff.

When it came to implementing a wireless LAN (WLAN) at Overlake, the decision was fairly cut-and-dried. In fact, it was one of the few times in my 11-year health-care career when an extensive cost/benefit analysis wasn't required prior to implementing a new networking infrastructure. My proposed budget for the project, spanning two fiscal years, met with little or no resistance.

In 2002, the hospital began investing in several key initiatives meant to dramatically improve the way we cared for patients. These included bedside administration of medication, online access to clinical documentation for the nursing staff, and physician access to medical records via portable devices. To be effective, these applications required a mobile infrastructure. It was clear these projects would have difficulty succeeding without the right WLAN infrastructure.

To support our applications, the WLAN infrastructure had to provide key capabilities. These weren't necessarily unique to Overlake, but I was surprised to see the varying degree to which available solutions could address our WLAN requirements, which included:

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