The other thing that was occurring in parallel with that rollout was on the physician side, we decided to pursue a PDA-based mobile solution from PatientKeeper that provided both a charge capture capability and clinical results review from our Cerner EMR. That started out as a pilot in 2007, and grew to what is now an expansive rollout to 200-300 physicians. And it runs on smartphones — it ran on Treo and we’re pouring it over now to Blackberry. But obviously in order for that to be successful, we had to ensure pretty solid cellular coverage within our facilities as well. All of this is, besides getting all the infrastructure in place to accommodate this, the support and the tuning and the management of it is pretty daunting because we’re in a difficult environment for any kind of wireless.
KG: How so?
RP: We have a lot of older buildings with various types of construction, and some of them date back to the 1940s. We have every generation of building you can imagine. And the construction materials of course vary and have different attenuation effects on the wireless signal. In addition to that, because it’s a dense downturn area, our wireless signals, or what I call “bubbles,” are constantly bumping into wireless bubbles from the university that we share the campus with and from the state government buildings for the city of Richmond, which are right across the street. So we’ve had a really challenging couple of years of not just getting the infrastructure in to provide ubiquitous wireless coverage, but also insuring that it’s configured in such a way that it can play with these other systems in place.
So three years later, we have probably over 1 million square feet of wireless and that includes the 802.11. And we have extensive telemetry, we have smartphone use by the physicians, we have that application over the cellular network and we’ve had to have the carriers put in additional towers to give us coverage on that. So we’ve done quite a bit; we’ve spent quite a bit of money and did a lot of work over the last three years.
KG: That’s a lot to tackle when taking over a new position. I’m sure that couldn’t have been easy.
RP: I don’t know that I was really aware that we were going to get that heavily into it at the time I took the job. It was just one of situations where one thing led to another. Like okay, I see where we are with the EMR, the organization wants to kick-start that and drive that to completion and is willing to provide the support. And then I’m thinking, okay do I have the underlying infrastructure to support rolling this out and expecting the nurses and clinicians to make greater use of it. And the answer came back pretty quickly — no, I don’t have enough devices. I don’t have enough mobility, I don’t have enough coverage. So that was the incentive for me to aggressively push forward on extensive wireless deployment.
Now the new building was great because we were able to do things the right way with optimal technology like a DAS system from InnerWireless. In the older buildings, we didn’t have that option. The retrofitting of that would’ve been way too difficult. So we’ve had to figure out how to make the best possible compromise and solution we could with conventional point technology.