Driving Cost Efficiency In The NHS With Wireless Technology

With the NHS constantly forced to drive down costs, technology can be a great enabler if the right infrastructure can be put in place. Wireless technology is transforming the way in which hospitals operate as new Wi-Fi deployments across hospitals in the UK enable doctors and clinicians to use mobile devices to improve patient care, save time and improve efficiencies.

As a case in point, we recently completed a wireless network with Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool. After completion, the hospital performed a “time and motion study” and found that they are saving an average of 64 minutes per nurse, per shift by using wireless-based bedside prescribing and record keeping. The wireless network saves the nurses from having to walk back and forth between the patient and the central nurse station to input the patient and prescription details.

If you consider the size of the hospital and the number of nurses, this time-saving equates to many thousands of nurse hours per year which, in return, easily justifies the cost of deploying the wireless network. Further, by fulfilling the prescription and data-input at the bedside, it significantly reduces the risk of mistakes that could happen if a nurse is interrupted between prescribing a drug to a patient and inputting the details into the patient records at a central nurse station.

Across various wards throughout NHS hospitals in the UK, wireless technology is enabling new applications such as electronic prescriptions, where nurses and staff members make use of “single user sign-on” schemes which has shown to improve staff efficiency. A host of applications, such as RFID tagging and Voice over Wi-Fi, are designed to improve patient care and efficiency of the hospital’s services.

Use of RFID technology is also increasingly being used for equipment tracing, but Alder Hey for example, has taken it one step further and is using RFID wristbands to protect newborn babies. If a baby is removed from a ward without authorization, not only can the baby’s whereabouts be tracked using the wireless network, but also, since the network is connected to the hospital’s physical access system, a security alert is raised and, as a result, doors will automatically seal so that the baby cannot be taken outside of the hospital.

Another example of how a wireless network can transform a hospital’s IT infrastructure is by the amount of ultrasound images being transferring by hospital staff via the WLAN in real-time. If you considerer that an average of 90,000 scans per month are carried out in a typical neonatal ward, this equate to significant improvements in the time saved by sending them over a wired network.

This means, that if hospitals are deploying an 802.11n Wi-Fi network, with 11n clients, they could benefit from unparalleled speed and performance and can transfer data with speeds up to 300Mbps – which is much faster than the older 802.11a/b/g wireless networks of 54Mbps. One of the largest advantages of a high-speed network is sending large video files, which are around 150MB in file size and are bandwidth hungry, which could take several minutes longer if they were to be sent over a wired connection.

The combined cost of a network port and installation of a cable run in the NHS is currently around £1,000 per drop. This is why IT decision makers across NHS hospitals are recognising that by deploying a wireless network, an initial cost investment is required but demonstrates long-term savings, which can be justified by using the wireless network as the primary network, instead of an old wired network. This will not only future-proof the facility, but it will in fact also result in large cost savings, especially in cable runs and switch ports. If we refer to Alder Hey again, they were also saving 66,751 kWh power per year.

To conclude, wireless technology help NHS trusts across the UK to fulfil their strategy of improving levels of patient care, reducing paperwork, and saving time. Hospitals can deploy state-of-the-art wireless networks to reduce costs, without compromising on service, resilience or security.

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As the UK Country Manager for Xirrus, Ben Wilson is responsible for all aspects of the UK operation and has personally deployed over a 1000 Wi-Fi networks in all manner of environments from critical high availability healthcare solutions to challenging environmental environments such as music festivals. Ben has worked at all levels in the deployment chain – from Vendor to End User and everything in-between including senior roles at TNS (now BTiNet) and CSI.