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No Strings Attached

January 1, 2007
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Wireless software and hardware products continue to gain a greater foothold within healthcare organizations

Last summer, results tabulated from a survey of more than 300 healthcare executives and upper-level managers asked about their strategic purchasing plans for the next two years showed high interest in wireless networking.

Across all organizational types, those polled placed it at their number three priority. (Electronic health records and privacy and security issues were number one and two, respectively). Those respondents reported in the survey — "Critical Needs of Today's Healthcare System" fielded by Healthcare Informatics — that their organizations backed plans for wireless projects and indicated that larger expenditures were intended for implementations within the next year.

In an effort to better understand the prevalence of wireless connectivity, as well as the continuing concerns surrounding implementations in healthcare organizations of all sizes, Healthcare Informatics polled this group again in the fall when more than 200 shared more specifics, as well as their strategies.

Within the group surveyed, wireless may be on their minds and in their plans, but only 5 percent say their organization is completely wirelessly-enabled. Nearly one-quarter, 23 percent, have no wireless network, but nearly three-quarters, 72 percent, report a mix of hardwired and wireless networks. Lack of a wireless network, however, was greatest among ambulatory care and private practice groups, which reported 33 percent had a hardwired network only. Within the acute care group, only 9 percent reported no wireless network.

Taking into account the budgets this group said they had allocated to installing wireless networks in the earlier survey, it seems clear that not only are these organizations in the process of enabling and extending access to data through wireless technologies, but that these implementations are following a methodical progression of being phased in.

Clinicians, including physicians, nurses and other direct caregivers, most frequently use wireless connectivity for remote access to the corporate network, say those surveyed. But one-quarter of those logging on via wireless devices are administrators and support staff. Whether part of a large organization with multiple buildings or a single site, the locations most often reported to use the data access points were offices, clinics, ward floors, and emergency and diagnostic departments.

Not unexpectedly, the devices most often used to access wireless networks were stationary desktop PCs and workstations, followed by laptops on carts, tablet PCs and PDAs. Fully 69 percent of respondents said that PDAs were part of their network and that multiple brands and types of devices co-existed within the enterprise.

Although the prevalence of traditional Palm OS- and Windows Mobile-based devices continue to show an active battle for market dominance, other smart phones are growing in acceptance as data management functionalities move these type devices toward what users really want: a single handheld device capable of managing both data and voice equally well.

Given that the caregivers — physicians, nurses, and other clinicians — were most often cited as the organizations' handheld super users, it is no surprise that these pocket-friendly devices are being used primarily to support patients' treatments and for ordering and access to diagnostic tests.

Author Information:

Charlene Marietti

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