All NHS sites in Worcestershire are to be connected to a single Community of Interest Network (COIN) to allow information and data to be shared almost instantly between staff at any time.
The Worcestershire health community has signed a five year deal with BT, working in conjunction with Nortel and Microsoft, to create a unified communications network to run across the existing N3 network.
Nortel will provide IP communications systems for each site that will deliver end-to-end voice, data networking and messaging solutions across the network.
BT Health Sales’ chief executive, Stuart Hill, said: “This is a very exciting project for us. What the trust wanted was greater control for staff in relation to their patients. What we, together with Nortel and Microsoft are doing, is putting into play a technology to enable the coming together of voice, data and messaging. The results of which will be fascinating.”
The first phase of work will focusing on the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, followed shortly by Worcestershire Primary Care Trust, and Worcestershire Mental Health Partnership Trust, which should be taking place in the next seven months.
Initially, these trusts will benefit from free IP telephony over the N3 network and reduced calls to mobile tariffs, as is currently being piloted by 55 trusts in London.
WiFi technology will also be deployed at all large sites, enabling healthcare professionals to use mobile voice, data and tracking technologies such as BT Managed Vocera – a voice-controlled, wearable badge that allows users to speak to each other instantly anywhere on site. Previously piloted by trusts such as Sherwood Forest.
Hill said: “Using the voice activated system staff simply have to say a person’s name, department or role to be automatically connected to the appropriate person and can speak to them just like on a normal phone. This will also be integrated with Nortel, so they can call people over the VoIP network.”
Live Communications Server connectivity from Microsoft will give mobile health professionals and other NHS staff instant messaging and presence technology to locate, communicate and share time-sensitive information with each other instantly.
Hill said: “This presence technology will mean that at any time staff can see if a person is available or not, and if they are not, can access their diary and make an appointment to see the person. This is unique technology which encourages collaboration and the formation of multi-disciplinary teams.
“Ultimately, this will help to work on improving efficiencies and processes of patient care in the UK.”
Once work is completed, 10,000 health professionals from the three NHS trusts will be connected on the COIN, able to better serve and support their community through the new combined unified communications.
John Thornbury, director of ICT at Worcestershire Health ICT Services, said: “We cover a large area, serving a widely dispersed population of more than 500,000. Up until now our staff had to spend a considerable amount of time travelling between facilities in order to consult patients and collaborate with colleagues. The new communications platform from BT, Nortel and Microsoft offers a complete package that will streamline the way we operate and improve the way that patient care is delivered.
“Mobile health professionals such as district and community nurses are now able to locate and exchange information with each almost instantly. This, together with the elimination of wasted travelling time, will contribute to improved productivity.”
Future enhancements could include the use of handheld devices running on the COIN, currently being piloted by BT, described as ‘bigger than a PDA, but smaller than a desktop.”
RFID tag technology is also a possibility, Hill said. “The principle is to find the best ways to access information in a secure way. We will be working closely with Worcestershire to see how they want to go about doing this over the course of the next five years.”