21st-century healthcare is here

15 Jan 2007

Siemens has developed a global reputation as a provider of cutting-edge healthcare technologies and some of it has arrived in Ireland. The Siemens Enterprise Communications division has provided the bedrock infrastructure in two private hospitals, the Galway Clinic and the newly opened Hermitage Clinic in Dublin, prime examples of next-generation patient care.

“These are without doubt the two most technically advanced hospitals in Ireland,” says Gavin McCarthy, Siemens key account manager. “We’re becoming the supplier of choice in healthcare. There are very few companies that can deliver an end-to-end customised solution specific to a healthcare environment which is what we have done with both of these clinics.”

There was always a strong likelihood that Siemens would be the preferred supplier for the Hermitage because many of the directors and investors had been involved in setting up the Galway Clinic in 2004. The remit was another greenfield site that wanted a turnkey solution from a single supplier. They wanted a vendor to design, build and implement the service — everything from the PCs on the desk to the backbone internet protocol (IP) infrastructure and links to the wider world.

To ensure they got best value the Hermitage management team went to tender for the key component, the voice and data network. Siemens was awarded the contract in April.

Two years is a long time in technology so Siemens was able to update and improve the design over the Galway Clinic. One beneficiary was the wide area network, which used technology from Siemens’ preferred partner Juniper Networks. It improved the remote access for doctors on the move, enabling them to log in to the hospital information systems from anywhere in the world, regardless of what equipment they were using.

“This time we didn’t have to roll out VPN software on to each doctor’s device,” explains McCarthy. “Instead, we used an SSL secure tunnel and the RSA SecurID Key Fob system.”

The hospital has an IP voice network with wireless voice and date coverage throughout the facility. For data, a gigabit Ethernet network was supplied by another preferred partner, Enterasys. For voice, the key element of the infrastructure was the Siemens HiPath platform that seamlessly connects all staff within the hospital, providing a range of IP telephony applications. A central console makes easy work of any ‘moves and changes’ to the network.

Another key component of the Siemens solution set is HiMed, a bedside computer console that enables staff to retrieve patient records from the hospital intranet. The data is pooled on a storage area network supplied by sister company Fujitsu Siemens who also provided the servers and PCs.

HiMed can also be used as a patient entertainment and communication system. Every bed has a 15-inch LCD screen attached to a pull-out arm on the wall that lets patients browse the web, watch TV or make and receive phone calls. Through smart card technology they are allocated a phone number for the duration of their stay.

All the medical applications are built on top of the Siemens infrastructure allowing doctors and nurses to access patient information in seconds, either over wireless or the fixed-wire network. “This is where it’s of real value to the hospital,” said McCarthy. “The whole solution is focused on flexibility, mobility and information availability. Because the staff has immediate access to information there are savings to be made as well as patient benefits.”

The Digital Alarm and Communication Server is another Siemens technology, an interface that delivers more benefits to patient care. When there’s a cardiac arrest anywhere in the hospital the cardiac team will be instantly summoned with a press of a single button. “All the cardiac team have cordless phones and get the alert and notification of the zone where they are required,” said McCarthy. “We are talking about mobilising people in seconds as opposed to a nurse manually calling them individually, which is the way it typically happens in a hospital.”

Siemens began work on the Hermitage contract in June and had everything up and running by October. Staff training will have been completed by Christmas. McCarthy has no doubt that the speed and success of the deployment is down to the fact that it is a greenfield hospital and is very aware of the obstacles for delivering such technologies into the wider national healthcare service. He is concerned that Ireland is in danger of falling behind as great advancements are being made across Europe.

Siemens has been instrumental in rolling out national health cards in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. Whatever hospital a citizen has cause to visit in these countries, they can be assured that doctors will be able to access a single patient record. “It’s a long way off before we have such a system running here in Ireland,” he said. “The reality is that there are many other problems to be tackled before they get around to the technology.”

By Ian Campbell

Pictured – Gavin McCarthy, Siemens key account manager