Technology savvy hospitals

To save time and money while providing patient care, hospitals in the Middle East are adopting advanced technologies to achieve service improvements, demanding infrastructures that deliver more connectivity and performance.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  June 26, 2005

|~|Photo-1---DOHMS-BODY.jpg|~|Hospitals in the Middle East are deploying sophisticated technologies to provide better health care and reduce costs. |~|Constantly striving to improve patient care, hospitals in the Middle East are taking steps to strengthen their IT infrastructures to provide not only greater capabilities and better service, but also lower operational costs.

An intelligent network is an essential element for these organisations as it enables new applications and provides the right information and services to the people who need it, when they need it. “Quality of patient care and provision of healthcare is now dependent on the use of advanced technologies and tools. “It is important for us to have a full range of healthcare applications that provide end-to-end connectivity. In addition, networks facilitate flexibility in operations and are easily scalable,” says Dr. Adnan A. Al Edan, director general at Al Salam Hospital Company.

The systems being deployed by hospitals in the region are designed to help healthcare professionals share information efficiently, establish the highest possible levels of security and reduce administrative, maintenance, troubleshooting and training costs. More significantly, the solutions incorporate robust products that protect the network against outages, service degradations and security breaches. "Enabling wireless access to patient history records and on-line orders for lab tests [is of great importance] in introducing full digitisation of in-patient services in our hospitals,” says Sina AbdulAziz Khoory, IT director of the Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS).

One vendor that is targeting the region’s healthcare sector is Cisco Systems, having completed implementations at hospitals both in the UAE and Kuwait. “Cisco has been investing a lot of resources in the Middle East to provide technology to customers in the healthcare sector and related verticals as part of its regional expansion strategy,” says Ghazi Atallah, general manager for Cisco Systems in the Middle East.

The Cisco medical-grade network uses intelligence to sort information. Via a wireless connection, it connects hospitals, physician groups and clinics, providing information in real-time regardless of locations or the devices. Another important feature of the network is that it self-monitors, defends and repairs to provide continuous 24/7 uptime.

The network converges voice, video and data to decrease maintenance and network administration costs, increase staff productivity and support the seamless delivery of device and location-independent applications. "The solution is a framework to help hospitals design an IT infrastructure that will deliver high-quality medical care. Often, hospital networking requirements are not integral to the healthcare business requirements, and this network is a suite of products, services and supporting materials aimed at offering healthcare providers an end-to-end foundation for the delivery of quality medical care.” says Atallah. ||**|||~|Photo-1---DOHMS-BODY.jpg|~||~|To ensure the network meets the needs of healthcare organisations, the networking giant provides consultation during which customers address the issue of whether their existing network is able to support current and future business objectives.

Both DOHMS, which has introduced wireless patient bedside computing at three of its hospitals in Dubai, and Al Salam International Hospital (SIH) in Kuwait, have customised the network to meet their own specifications. “The set-up is based on an advanced infrastructure, designed to meet the specific needs of the health care industry and will help [the hospitals] in reducing capital expenditure, management and service costs, and provide advanced patient care,” Atallah enthuses.

The technology is deployed at the Rashid, Dubai and Al Wasl Hospitals and doctors at these hospitals use the physician order entry (POE) system to electronically requisition services such as radiology and lab requests. “The network allows secure wireless networking, which enables physicians greater mobility in patient wards. Most importantly, they can gain instant access to patient information, test results and X-rays using a notebook, which they can easily carry on their rounds,” explains Khoory.

Prior to using the new technology, the hospitals had to rely on desktop workstations to access patient files from a central database. The system left a lot to be desired in terms of responsiveness and flexibility but with the deployment of more than 120 laptops, residing on carts and linked to the DOHMS network through 160 wireless access points, IP (internet protocol) technology pushes all communications across the same network, providing new services and reducing expenditures, management and service-plan costs. “Diagnosis assistance, patient records and all other information the medical professionals may need is available for reference and updating in real-time at the bedside. This saves a lot of time for doctors,” he adds.

Network security was important for DOHMS and the new solution provides network-wide security from the core to the perimeter of the three hospitals’ systems. The application controls user authentication and authorisation, maintains an account of all access to the network and immediately triggers an automated response to any security threat. “We place supreme importance to the privacy of the patient’s medical history data. We have successfully implemented a solution with which the doctors are able to make maximum use of user-friendly wireless networking tools to enhance patient care at the bedside, while maintaining a high level of security," Khoory says.

The patient care system was implemented at the three hospitals in partnership with Emirates Computers. Its role included the co-ordination of the implementation of cabling, laptop, server and network teams without disrupting the existing DOHMS network. "The challenge was not only to meet the tight implementation deadlines but also to use all our expertise to maintain the highest standards and match the demands of the solution," says Saeed Agha, networking and securities unit manager for Emirates Computers.

At its 200-bed facility in Kuwait, Al Salam International Hospital (SIH) hosts a multitude of medical and surgical specialties and is equipped with the latest in medical technology. In line with this, SIH installed the medical-grade network to deliver a resilient, protected, responsive and interactive healthcare environment, offering a defined growth path to create an integrated health care enterprise.

A variety of interrelated features combine to provide the “resilience” SIH was seeking. Quality of service enables preferential treatment of the institution’s mission-critical data, while IP multicast reduces its network load and router processing requirements. In addition, the system has redundancy built in to ensure network services and applications are available 24/7 to the hospital’s staff.

The project, which was carried out by Universe Computers, uses high bandwidth core routing and switching infrastructure, in conjunction with key supporting technologies such as integrated security, wireless, storage networking and IP communications to create a highly secure and responsive environment for patient data, medical history and key hospital applications. “The solution provides the hospital with a converged network, preventing over-investment in IT, as it is a universal infrastructure that can be scaled as per business requirements,” explains Al Salam Hospital’s Al Edan.

The network will help SIH ensure its employees have access to information they require when it is needed, from the patient’s bedside or elsewhere within the hospital. The physicians are connected in real-time and the system creates opportunities for global learning and collaboration.

Importantly for the hospital, the new network promises to reduce the total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) for the infrastructure while maximising ROI. ”Moreover, the risk of costly downtime is minimised through the network’s ability to intelligently protect itself from viruses and intrusions. The solution will help SIH achieve measurable service improvements and financial gains,” adds Cisco’s Atallah.

With these deployments, the networking giant hopes to further strengthen its presence in the Middle East health services and technology sector. Ultimately, as Atallah points out, “The beneficiaries of this system will be the patients. The quicker diagnosis and treatment, and the overall improvement in patient care, are the most important benefits the solution can provide.” ||**||

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