The potential benefits of wireless technology applied to healthcare are fairly well understood, from wireless access to medical data and patient IDs with smartcard chips to equipment tracking and remote diagnosis. In many hospitals, these emerge as add-ons to existing infrastructure, but in cases where a new facility is being developed from scratch, it's an opportunity for healthcare managers to really harness the latest technology available and put it to work in fresh scenario.
Take Kiang Wu Hospital in Macau, the former Portuguese enclave and current special administrative region that is currently laboring to reinvent itself from a small gambling haven to an international city in its own right. In doing so, the city is bringing its institutions along for the ride, to include its healthcare sector. And the Macau government has decided that an international-class city needs international-class healthcare, says Dr Manson Fok, deputy director and chief of surgery at Kiang Wu Hospital.
"We have two major hospitals, and we look after at least half the population. But we definitely have to upgrade to provide a specialist hospital that will provide a high-end specialist service," he says.
To that end, Kiang Wu is constructing a new extension - the Dr. Henry Y. T. Fok Specialist Medical Center - that will comprise about 20 different specialist services. Wireless/IT technology features heavily in the blueprint, but, says Dr Fok, "because the center will handle a variety of specialty services, we need an integrated network to support all of them in a way that not only improves the efficiency of the hospital, but also improves the working conditions for staff, and especially patient safety and comfort."
In late April Kiang Wu unveiled the wireless/IT side of the project, along with technology partners Cisco Systems, systems integrator (and certified Cisco partner) Macroview Telecom and local incumbent telco CTM. The center itself won't be ready for business until October this year, and many of the applications listed in the press kit are wish-list apps that may not be live when the center's doors open. But the point - at least for the tech partners - is that the center will be equipped with an IP-based wireless framework that will allow the center to install whatever medical apps it likes.
By perhaps no coincidence, Cisco has just such a framework on offer, based on its product line of routers, wireless LAN gear and IP-based unified communications solutions.
"Kiang Wu hospital's vision maps very well with Cisco's medical-centric framework, and together with very good applications, design, integration and the infrastructure network everything goes together very well," says Barbara Chiu, general manager of Cisco Hong Kong and Macau. "And it is flexible, interactive and most importantly scalable, so after this specialist center is built, the network can be expanded to other premises."
Chiu adds that Cisco's medical framework isn't just a packaged collection of equipment and apps - it's also endorsed by the American Hospital Association (AHA) for use in hospital environments (particularly in regards to using wireless technology without interfering with medical equipment).
The backbone of the specialist center network includes Catalyst 6500 and 3750 series switches with power over Ethernet (PoE), Cisco 4400 WLAN controllers, Aironet 1130 access points, and Cisco's Unified Communications Manager Version 5.0 with 7900 series IP phones.