Hospital VoIP project strikes hang ups

Newcastle Private Hospital has installed a converged VoIP network across two sites to offer voice, video and data communications via fixed line and wireless LAN.

The new network, rolled out earlier this month, includes specialist systems - Nurse Call - for radiology, emergency warning and building security access via a virtual local area network to isolate each application. While essentially trouble free, the rollout encountered an unusual glitch (see Hot Water).

The hospital has eight operating theatres and beds for 162 patients over two sites - the Kingston building, opened in April 2004 offers a rehabilitation unit as well as various medical imaging facilities and was the greenfield site that drove the decision to consider VoIP. Allcom Networks were chosen to deploy and implement the system to the greenfield site.

The network is based on Cisco Catalyst 4500 Series switches, CallManager software, Aironet 1200 Series access points and some 50 wireless handsets.

Newcastle Private Hospital now has 100 percent coverage on each floor of the two buildings with more than 50 wireless handsets for staff and a potential for 400 Internet-enabled beds.

Allcom's regional manager Ian Warby said, "The hardest part of the job was waiting for the building works to finish.

"The VoIP network was configured and up and running [on the site] in a day. It was built in a few days in the lab then tested and relocated; we did a functionality test on the same day we installed the system.

"Newcastle Private initially had a two-storey building with a small Fujitsu PABX which could have been extended but there was a much bigger, three-storey building under construction next door. The fact that it was a greenfield site meant cabling costs could be halved. There is no development going into PABX [technology] now as it's all going into IP telephony and no one is going to buy old technology."

Newcastle Private Hospital is considering using the newly-deployed infrastructure for videoconferencing, patient Internet access (which could be on a user-pays model) and offering staff wireless access to patient data.

One benefit the hospital has discovered from VoIP has been the tightened security the new network offers via its video capabilities. The system gives the nurse in charge video surveillance of all boom gates or roller doors, which are locked after hours, and a handset means the nurse can permit access via a push-key sequence.

Brendan Mills, Newcastle Private Hospital technology manager, said the project involved 42 wireless access points being deployed some 80 metres apart and needed around 400 handsets, adding that eventually the project might see bedside Internet access for patients.

"We have toyed with the idea of Internet access; we have already enhanced security features to increase wireless security but don't know if there is sufficient demand [yet for] patient access - all the infrastructure is there and ready," Mills said.

James Nicol, Newcastle Private Hospital commercial manager said the network is a strategic asset for the hospital because it is helping to improve the way services are delivered to patients.

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