Mater Health Services' Network is What Doctor Ordered
September 29, 2009
Keeping a large hospital running smoothly is complex and costly activity. Ensuring patients receive top-quality care while also meeting the needs of staff requires careful planning and targeted investments.
With technology now at the heart of modern medicine, particular attention must be given to the IT infrastructure that underpins all hospital operations. This infrastructure must be robust enough to deal with heavy loads but also sufficiently flexible to quickly respond to changes in demand.
Mater Health Services is one of the largest not-for-profit hospital groups in Australia.
Based in Brisbane, Queensland, the 103-year-old group operates seven hospitalsincluding the 323-bed Mater Private Hospital Brisbane and the 126-bed Mater Adult Hospitalthat collectively serve more than 500,000 patients each year.
Two years ago Mater embarked on a comprehensive smart hospital strategy designed to upgrade and improve its IT systems and infrastructure. All components were reviewed and plans drawn up for a major overhaul of everything from core systems to networks and client devices.
A central part of this technology strategy was the deployment of a Cisco Medical-Grade Network across the group's seven hospitals. Currently being rolled out, the new converged network delivers data, voice and video.
News@Cisco spoke with Mater Health Services chief information officer Mal Thatcher to get an insight on what the project means for Mater's hospitals, its patients, and its staff.
How important is information technology to the delivery of health services in your hospitals?
Mal Thatcher: It is absolutely vital. We have two data centers, more than 240 enterprise applications and a fleet of 3000 PCs that continues to grow. We also have a range of clinical applications across all our areas of medical practice. IT is a core part of hospital business.
What prompted you to embark on the smart hospital strategy?
Mal Thatcher: We had a very heterogeneous environment with lots of bits and pieces that had been cobbled together over a long period of time and we had realized that we could not scale this infrastructure to meet our goals.
We knew we needed a single vendor that had the technology to deliver a large network. We started discussions with Cisco in mid-2005 when company's Medical Grade Network caught our attention.
We saw that it was a robust IP platform that could deliver the solutions we needed. When we formalized our Mater Smart Hospital Memorandum of Understanding, Cisco became one of our main strategic partners, along with Intel and IBM.
How did you tackle the network rollout?
Mal Thatcher: We started at the core, replacing existing core switches with Cisco Catalyst 6509 devices, and then worked outwards in concentric circles, gradually replacing equipment out to the edge of the network.
We have now installed more than 300 switches and 500 wireless access points and this number continues to grow. The new network has allowed us to meet our requirement for gigabit speeds to the desktop.
We need this capability because we have replaced film X-rays and scans with a digital system that requires a lot of bandwidth. We are also moving to an IP-based telephony system, replacing our existing digital PBX and mixture of wired and DECT cordless handsets.
"If a midwife notices an anomaly in the heartbeat of an unborn baby at 2am, they can phone the doctor, who can immediately check the (information) feed from home."
The Wi-Fi handsets are very popular as they provide all the functions of a desk phone, but allow staff to be contactable no matter where they are in the hospitals.
How else are you using the wireless component of the new network?
Mal Thatcher: We have so far deployed around 500 notebook PCs with Wi-Fi connection capabilities. We have put some of them on trolleys so they can be easily moved around critical-care areas, allowing staff to quickly access patient records and results.
We have also installed wireless touch-screen PCs in our operating theaters, where they are used to manage medical instruments. Visiting medical specialists can use the wireless network to establish a VPN link back at their own offices.
Can you share an example of how the new network has significantly changed the way staff work?
Mal Thatcher: Yes. We have one of the largest neonatal intensive care facilities in the southern hemisphere, with some 89 cots for babies. We are currently deploying a system that will provide electronic patient records for staff and we have also moved to a central monitoring system.
Monitors at the bedside that would previously have been connected to a local PC are now all connected via the network to a central monitor. This means staff can monitor vital signs of patients from anywhere on the networkeven remotely from home if required.
We also have remote monitoring facilities in our birthing suites. If, for example, a midwife notices an anomaly in the heartbeat of an unborn baby at 2am, they can phone the doctor who can immediately check the (information) feed from their home.
This is a great example of how our workflows are changing as previously they would have had to come into the hospital.
You also have an entertainment component to the new network. What does that involve?
Mal Thatcher: We are in the process of deploying a new patient entertainment system using the Cisco network that delivers a range of services to touch-screen computers at each hospital bed.
These services include free-to-air television, on-demand movies, games, Internet access, email and video conferencing. Video conferencing allows patients to keep in touch with friends and relatives who cannot be with them in the hospital.
We have completed a 60-bed pilot of an entertainment system to see how it would work and we hope to deploy a state-of-the-art solution to all hospital beds by early next year.
So, overall, how would you summarize the impact that the Cisco Medical Grade Network has had on hospital operations?
Mal Thatcher: It was absolutely vital for our overall IT plans that we had an agile infrastructure with high availability, and it was evident to me that this should be an IP-based platform.
If you look at how businesses leverage technologies like virtualization, business intelligence and convergence it all comes back to the fact you have to have that core IP infrastructure.
For us, it also has to be an infrastructure that we can rely on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It cannot go down as that could cost lives. This is where Cisco Medical Grade Network is working well for us. We have had no failures in the two years we have had the equipment in place.
It supports everything we do.