Opportunity Knocks for Clinical Engineers in Atlantic Canada

What do you think a 24 year old Canadian girl working in Florida would do to kill time while attending a biomed conference in Canada?

1- Sleep (after a 15 hr flight)

2- Mingle with a lively group of maritimers

3- Marvel at life saving technology.

Well, I did two of the three above.

Sleep deprivation did not restrain my enthusiasm for my mission in Saint John, New Brunswick. I had come to Saint John to attend a Clinical Engineering conference hosted by the Atlantic Canada Clinical Engineering Society (ACCES1).

My reason for attending the conference was to connect with these individuals to better understand the common issues they face when integrating wireless medical devices within their healthcare systems.

Additionally, the CTO of one of our largest healthcare customers in Canada, Eastern Health of Newfoundland, was to give a presentation about the integration of their Biomedical and Information Technology teams.

On the first day of the conference, I had hoped the first-hand account of the transitional experience would shed some light on single-channel wireless LAN architecture for the conference attendees. I was not disappointed.

An opportunity of discovery

But first, a cocktail meet and greet was in order. On my way there, I happened upon a minor challenge, which quickly became a rewarding opportunity.

I had planned to connect with our partner MOBIA for the 4:30PM start time, but when I arrived at their booth a half-hour earlier to introduce myself, nobody was there.

The booth was empty, desolate. I paused for a moment, and then realized I was in a room full of vendor products that were new and exciting to me.

Here it was: the opportunity to explore the other exhibits and discover a variety of innovative wireless medical devices on display. I moved from booth to booth, learning more about the technologies shaping the future of improved patient-centric care and safety, facility workflow, and cost efficiency, such as:

  • Defibrillators by Zoll, which harness standard 802.11 wireless technologies to send code ready test statuses to its Defibrillator Dashboard Software
  • Wireless patient monitoring systems by Drager
  • Smart pumps by Cardinal Health and Hospira
  • The wireless detector platform for sending digital images of X-rays by Carestream
  • The smart bed monitoring system by Stryker, which uses iBed Awareness to communicate bed status information to caregivers

Suddenly, my phone rang. It was the president of MOBIA, asking me to meet the team at a pub nearby for a quick drink before the start of the conference.

My arrival was welcomed by a lively group of Maritimers, giving me the perfect opportunity to experience a taste of the witty, colorful Atlantic sensibility (or lack of sensibility) that thrives throughout its culturally vibrant landscape.

Everything had fallen into place.

After a round with my new friends, the MOBIA team and I carried on to the conference, where another challenge awaited.

The challenge faced by clinical engineers

Back at the conference, I engaged with several clinical engineers from across Atlantic Canada, most of who were knowledgeable about the need for wireless LANS and familiar with the issues inherent to microcell Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Their primary challenge was clear: how could they integrate life-critical wireless medical devices with their existing Cisco wireless networks? Without adequate wireless network security and bandwidth, their innovative medical devices did not mix well with their WLAN environment. To move forward, something had to change. For now, they felt stuck.

I knew an opportunity to overcome this challenge was within these clinical engineers’ reach. As time drew closer for Eastern Health to give their presentation, my anticipation grew with it.

Eastern Health shares an opportunity

In a room bursting with conference attendees, the Eastern Health CTO opened up to the audience by describing the challenges the company had faced when integrating wireless medical devices on to their wireless networks. Although they were still in the testing phase, Eastern Health had already lived through these obstacles and overcame them.

As I listened, it became clear to me that these challenges were closely aligned with those of the clinical engineers I had spoken with earlier.

Challenge defined, opportunity revealed. Sometimes, everything just clicks.

Because not long ago, Eastern Health had been there, stuck with a traditional multi-channel wireless LAN, unable to ensure continuously available bandwidth to life-critical devices. Their legacy architecture was not designed to support high density and mobile environments (not to mention being able to handle BYOD diversity). It was time for a technology environment overhaul.

And it all started with the opportunity to implement single-channel WiFi architecture.

When everything just clicks

First, Eastern Health replaced their existing multi-channel architecture with a single-channel architecture requiring only a single-channel for one full layer of coverage.

By freeing up the other two available RF channels, their network can scale for capacity by layering these channels and segregating life-critical devices from less critical devices on the network by assigning them to different channels.

Single-channel architecture and channel layering for application segregation eliminates the common issues that are inherent in multi-channel solutions by ensuring that bandwidth is always available to all devices on the network without the risk of consumer devices interfering with life-critical devices.

Along with single-channel architecture integration, Eastern Health was prepared to integrate something else: their IT and Biomedical departments.

Conference attendees got a glimpse into the personal experiences of the Eastern Health IT and Biomed team members through video testimonials. These accounts were enlightening because they spoke to another challenge expressed by several clinical engineers at the conference: the lack of symmetry between departments.

Before the integration, the Biomed and IT departments at Eastern Health competed for the same resources while trying to achieve the same outcome, but with completely different approaches.

Merging these teams introduced better communication and improved their ability to empathize with the value and urgency of each other’s roles, therefore improving patient safety, work flow, and creating greater respect between the two departments.

Challenge conquered

In a one-two punch of single-channel architecture integration and the merging of IT and Biomed departments, Eastern Health took the steps to conquering a challenge growing more urgent by the day: the need for wireless LANS in health care facilities.

Now more than ever, hospitals are using medical devices that require a reliable wireless connection in order to function. Now there is an opportunity to make that possible, using single-channel architecture.

I left the presentation smiling, knowing that for many attendees in the conference room, something must have clicked.

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