Aged care turns to WiFi for communications

The aged care sector has often been slow to adopt new technologies, but the advent of WiFi networks capable of handling clinical data along with communications devices like WiFi-enabled nurse call systems is seeing the sector increasingly hooking up to the technology, even in hard to refurbish facilities.

Bart Williams, general manager of Australian company Questek, said the advent of WiFi nurse call systems as well as the replacement of DECT phones with hands-free communication devices like Vocera's badges means that even small aged care facilities can become networked.

Questek, which merged with hospitality and retail WiFi paging systems specialist BluFi last year, is seeing an increase in the amount of work it is doing in aged care, in addition to growth in the acute care sector, Mr Williams said.

“With the advent of our WiFi nurse call system, aged care has been exploding,” he said. “We are now able to refurbish facilities that were really hard to refurbish before. Most of the facilities are putting in WiFi networks for resident and clinical data and resident access to the internet, so there is already a reason to put a WiFi network in, and now with a WiFi nurse call system it all starts to come together.”

Questek became a distributor for Vocera in 2011, and is marketing the company's range of voice-activated, hands-free communications badges, which are increasingly popular in both aged care and in hospitals. Devices using WiFi mean that not only do facilities not need to install a DECT system, but they only need to build one WiFi network that can handle all of the data and voice requirements.

“We used to have DECT phones but now with WiFi phones or Vocera, that is all on one network,” he said. “Instead of putting in different networks, you just have the one. All of the multi-campus providers are rolling out high-speed networks and we are working closely with most of the large ones.”

Sydney-headquartered Questek is also seeing growth in the hospital sector, particularly in Queensland, where it established a local office two years ago. Questek won the nurse call and the patient infotainment contract for the new Queensland Children's Hospital, which is bringing together the Royal Children's Hospital and Mater Children's Hospital in South Brisbane into one paediatric facility.

The hospital is due to be fully constructed by April next year and to be open to patients by the end of 2014. It is classified as a 450-bed hospital but there will be a number of day beds as well, so Questek has been contracted to install approximately 600 patient infotainment terminals.

Questek will provide its IP-based nurse call system throughout the hospital, and has partnered with Taiwanese terminal manufacturer Advantech, which has a large market share and local offices in Australia, to provide the hardware. Questek has created a joint venture company with Canada's HRG to provide the software for the terminals.

“The terminals provide TV, radio, patient information, video conferencing so patients can talk to family and friends and meal ordering, and it has smart card and biometric security on it for staff log-in,” Mr Williams said. “With the biometric security, they sign their name on the screen with their finger so it doesn't require a stylus.”

Mr Williams said Questek is also bidding for a number of other new hospital developments throughout the country, but is also keeping its focus on the aged care sector. It is also looking to the future for community care, where remote monitoring is just beginning to take off.

Posted in Aged Care

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