Today as the first day of the 2012 HiMSS Conference opens in Las Vegas, there is the usual buzz around the latest EHR/EMR software and Medicaid/Medicare incentives. With good reason – the healthcare industry is in the midst of a massive change that promises to radically impact business, especially IT, for any size practice and facility.

In an effort to achieve full compliance with EHR/EMR requirements, IT managers are working diligently to upgrade networks and data management systems as well as install security measures that will keep massive amounts of confidential data neatly organized and secure. Overhauls on current and legacy systems are finally getting the upgrades needed to meet new demands.

Yet with all of this focus on managing and keeping data safe, the primary goal of healthcare remains excellent patient care. An important part of this is keeping patients, and the doctors and nurses who look after them, safe and informed. Hospitals that are engaged in, or considering, upgrading their legacy IT systems should make sure that all systems are evaluated.

Consider All Legacy Systems
As IT has been migrating legacy data systems and network infrastructure over to newer technologies, many other legacy systems in which the facility relies on are often overlooked. If you’re investing the time and resources upgrading your systems, why not consider moving all of them to a network-ready architecture?

Let’s face it, hospitals aren’t becoming less busy. The healthcare industry is predicted to grow at an ever-increasing rate over the next decade. Ask any person who works in a healthcare facility and they are almost certain to mention plans for expansion or improved systems that offer increased efficiency. Whether a new wing or a new tower, we’re continually trying to keep pace with the growing demand on our healthcare facilities and IT systems. These expansions mean more area to cover, more systems to manage, more patients and employees to keep safe.

The Real Price of Expansion
With expansion, comes the need for IT and Facilities to collaborate and agree on the systems that that will be needed for this increasing demand. Most future systems selected by Facilities will come with an RJ45 port on them, which helps enable systems to be connected across a multi-building or multi-floor facility. This requires IT to be more heavily involved in the design and ongoing maintenance of building management systems such as security, HVAC and Public Address. And therein lies the debate.

Granted, a cheaper system without IP network connectivity or automation functionality can bring in a project under budget in the short term, but what if you want a unified intelligent system? What if hospital staff needs to communicate across all buildings or floors as your campus grows? What if another wing is required and expansion happens again? And, what about the CIO or Risk Manager demanding that the system does more tomorrow than originally planned? To accomplish these goals with a legacy solution means additional expenses and insurmountable technical obstacles; suddenly the cheaper solution is no longer a viable choice.

Quiet Hospitals Mean Better Patient Care
So what’s the biggest component of quality patient care? Quiet hospitals. Far too often, legacy Public Address systems broadcast pages everywhere at a wide volume range, rarely optimized for the particular zone receiving the page. This results in hospital staff and patients who are inundated with pages from every part of the hospital. Over time staff adapts and develop a tendency to ignore all pages, even the critical ones, making their initial response times slower. The broadcast effect also creates more noise in every part of the hospital, which has shown to decrease healing times and rest for patients.

This is why we advocate a narrowcast “zoned” public address system vs. broadcast “all-call” public address system. If you’re unfamiliar with the term narrowcast, think of broadcast pages like a radio station vs. Pandora® radio. Radio audio signals are broadcast to everyone and while the music or subject matter is of a particular genre, there is no specificity to the selections or the location that will receive the broadcast. Conversely, Pandora provides you with a stream that is content and location specific. Narrowcast paging provides a similar ability to create specific zones throughout an entire facility and then focus message content depending on the specific needs of each zone including automatic volume level.

Narrowcasting focuses messages within zones, which ultimately contributes to a quieter hospital and improved staff focus since only the required audience is addressed for each message. The patients are left undisturbed and the staff respond faster equals Increased Patient Care.

What are you looking forward to at HiMSS 2012? What are your thoughts on the importance of patient care and quieter hospitals?