Wireless Technology Ensures a Healing Environment at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center

— March 30, 2008

By Bill Atkinson

Mercy Gilbert Medical Center in Gilbert, Ariz., is a four-story, full-service, acute-care hospital covering 60 acres.

It has 92 private rooms, with the capacity to grow to 400 beds over the next five years. The facility, owned by Catholic Healthcare West, opened its doors in June 2006. An additional 40 acres are set aside to house a medical office building and research/lab facilities.

The hospital was designed, built, and is currently operating to reflect, in every possible way, a healing environment. In fact, Mercy Gilbert has been awarded the Healing Hospital-- designation by the Baptist Healing Trust, Nashville, Tenn. Facilities must meet three requirements for the designation: a healing physical environment, the integration of work design and technology, and a culture of Radical Loving Care.

Medical professionals are well aware of the noisy environment that exists in most hospitals - especially loud intercom messages every few minutes that distract staff and cause discomfort for patients, especially those in need of sleep.

When Mercy Gilbert was being designed and built, managing the level of noise in patient care areas was of utmost importance. "I wanted Mercy Gilbert to be free from overhead paging, in-room intercoms, loud machines rolling down long hard hallways, and voices calling to each other at the nurse's stations," says the hospital's president/CEO Laurie Eberst, RN. "For a hospital to promote healing, it needs to provide a quiet environment that allows patients to sleep. Patients' bodies perform the most repair during sleep. Cells regenerate faster during sleep."

Employees and physicians also benefit from the stress reduction of a noise-free environment, which also reduces the distractions that can cause errors (such as medication errors).

"So why," Eberst asks, "in the very setting where healing is most needed, do hospitals allow for high levels of noise and sleep deprivation?"

Noise Reduction

At Mercy Gilbert, all patient hallways are carpeted. Cleaning machines have a special silencer to avoid startling patients while passing by their rooms.

There is no overhead paging system except for emergencies. Nursing staff carry wireless phones that allow for direct connection with physicians, patients, and families.

"Before we opened, we knew that we wanted a wireless solution, and we looked at a number of different vendors," says Kim Hashim, chief nursing officer. "We did some research at other hospitals, and found a solution that we felt would be a good choice for us. The demonstration from the vendor confirmed this."

According to Bob Campbell, vice president, strategic business development, the hospital wanted a solution that would efficiently improve internal communications while meeting the facility's requirements for reduced noise.

Noise issues aside, overhead pagers aren't always efficient or effective in getting the right messages to the right people at the right times.

"We wanted an internal communication system that would lend itself to one-to-one, point-to-point communication," says Campbell. "We also wanted a system that would integrate with some of our other hospital information systems, such as nurse call."

Management decided to install the Polycom SpectraLink 6020 Wireless Telephone System for Healthcare.

SpectraLink technology can be integrated with the top-selling nurse call systems and other healthcare systems. Polycom's Open Application Interface (OAI) allows third-party applications to send text messages to the wireless telephone's display, and provides for user response through the handset's keypad.

SpectraLink can also be integrated with any messaging system, including telemetry, patient monitoring, HVAC, and alarm systems, which eliminates the need for separate radio pagers for healthcare staff. Additional features include: immediate text display of patient, room, and call status; real-time location tracking; direct call-back to patient room speaker; and automatic forwarding to alternate caregivers.

"Another reason we selected SpectraLink was because of the service they provided, such as in training and availability for dealing with any problems," says Hashim.

In terms of training requirements, the hospital found that the technology is very intuitive and easy to use. "However, it is also very flexible and programmable, so the training focused on helping the staff leverage the technical capabilities of the phone," says Campbell. "The vendor did a great job of not only training the end users, but also training the technical people who support the product."

Healthy Benefits

The technology enables the mobile healthcare staff to perform their work from anywhere within the facility. Among the benefits:

  • Staff members have immediate access to each other and to patients.
  • Nurses no longer miss calls or waste time traveling between the nurse station and patient rooms.
  • Physicians can contact nurses directly for orders.
  • Patient transporters can receive calls and information directly from various.
  • The pharmacy can connect directly to nurses for almost instant answers to questions about patient medications.   

According to Campbell, the system has been very reliable, with almost no downtime. It is also very easy and intuitive to use in terms of its functionality, he says.

"As a result of the installation, we have been able to keep noise to a minimum," he continues. "This has led to an improvement in patient satisfaction. There is also better communication between patients and their primary caregivers, as well as better communications between the caregivers themselves, because they can contact each other quickly and efficiently, rather than having to hunt for people."

Hashim reports that the staff has responded very favorably to the technology. "They like the various options, such as whether it rings or vibrates, as well as the volume control they have on the ring, if they select that option," she explains.

They also like the variety of features, she says. Staff members who are not technically oriented favor the simplicity and ease of use. Others, who are more technically inclined, appreciate the fact that there are additional features that they can access and use.

SpectraLink integrates well with the hospital's other technology, according to Campbell. The hospital utilizes Cisco for wireless telephony and data, and SpectraLink also is integrated into the hospital's Nortel switch.

What's Next?

The next step is to integrate SpectraLink into the hospital's nurse call system, so when patients call nurses, the calls go through their phones, says Hashim.

In addition, in the current set-up, overhead pages are still being used for emergencies. "Once we complete the integration of SpectraLink with the nurse call system, we will go to emergency notifications through the SpectraLink phones," says Hashim. "At that point, there will be no overhead pages."

And after that? "At some point in the future, we plan to integrate SpectraLink into some of our patient monitoring devices, so the devices can send alarms to the caregivers via the wireless phone system," says Campbell.

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