“Have you ever been in the ER and waited a few hours for a bed because the hospital was full?” asks Gene Gretzer, director of IT for St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, Texas. “That happens quite a bit in larger hospitals. Someone comes into the ER, and they [wind up waiting] while someone calls all around the hospital looking for a room with a bed available.”
St. Luke’s, an award-winning hospital with a Heart Center counted among the country’s top 10, was no exception, though its problem wasn’t necessarily being filled to capacity but knowing whether it was or not. When beds are not available, a hospital goes on drive-by status, which means that ambulances must rush on to the next closest hospital. Drive-bys both increase the risk to a patient’s health and deny the hospital the additional revenue.
Early on, bed availability was tracked on a chalkboard, which gave an imperfect view of the status of the 1,000 beds across St. Luke’s five remote campuses. The chalkboard gave way to beepers, but that was hardly more efficient, says Jeremy Tierman, CTO of MediLogistics and a consultant to St. Luke’s. “The emergency department would call up and try to find a bed, and they would write up the request and hand it out to a crew of placement specialists, who would call the different floors and then call back the emergency department and tell them which beds [were empty]. Then someone would call environmental services and ask if that bed was clean or not.” When the hospital equipped 88 members of its housekeeping staff with Dell Axim X30 handhelds loaded with MediLogistics’ BedCentral, the system eliminated all of those phone calls, but it only partially solved the problem.
With BedCentral, housekeeping staff can log in and be shown the status of each bed; a color-coded scheme identifies whether a bed is available, empty but dirty or high-priority. Additionally, says Tierman, “The cleaning staff, rather than having to call in, can get their work lists immediately. And if the hospital deems a room or bed as a priority, it goes to the top of their work list in real time.”
Hospital administrators worried whether the staff—some of whom didn’t have computers at home or lacked technical experience—would have a hard time adjusting to the handhelds, “but that turned out not to be the case,” says Gretzer. “St. Luke’s allowed them to take the devices home, like part of their uniform. So they’re responsible for charging the devices, and they’re allowed to utilize the device for personal needs, but they’re not allowed to change network settings or things like that.” This policy, explains Gretzer, helped the staff to become more comfortable with the devices and more technologically enabled.
BedCentral offered an ideal solution, so long as the devices remained connected—which was the one chronic pain St. Luke’s couldn’t remedy, until it turned to NetMotion Wireless.
Cure for What Ails
“St. Luke’s initially tried to deploy [BedCentral] without using our software and had problems with it crashing when people would lose connectivity by stepping into a stairwell or that sort of thing,” says Aaron Burnett, a VP with NetMotion Wireless. “So Gene thought to install our software to see if that would solve the problems, and to hear him tell it, they installed our software and all of [their] difficulties disappeared.”
NetMotion Mobility is a two-part solution, consisting of a device client and server software, that helps users to maintain a secure wireless connection while moving around an office or campus. When users roam out of the coverage area, the software “maintains” the data and application sessions and automatically reconnects once the user is back in coverage.
“NetMotion solves critical problems related to mobile computing in three areas,” explains Burnett. It enables any application—even legacy applications—to work over wireless networks; it makes those applications work better through compression and link optimization, effectively doubling the throughput of wireless networks; and it provides a wireless VPN, which stays with the user as he or she moves in and out of coverage. “So in the St. Luke’s setting, you don’t have to install 600 access points to blanket every square inch, because even if you have clinicians stepping into an elevator or a radiology lab, and there’s a little coverage gap, they won’t be aware of it. They can just keep doing what they’re doing.”
With NetMotion enabling the staff to use BedCentral more efficiently and effectively, St. Luke’s received ROI in under a month. The housekeeping department is now performing the same amount of work in half the time using 24 percent less staff, the availability of ICU beds has risen by 400 percent and drive-bys have been cut by 600 percent. “Hospitals are really reaching to increase their capabilities, and this is one thing that allowed us to make money without spending a whole lot,” says Gretzer. “The hospital’s advisory board is very happy.”•