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University Hospital pilots hands-free communications device

University Hospital has begun piloting a new hands-free communications system that will enable doctors, nurses, medical technicians and other hospital staff to communicate with each other from any location in the hospital without leaving the patient's bedside, using the overhead page system or telephone.

The pilot study is testing the Vocera Communications System, which features a lightweight, four-inch, wearable badge that enables instant communications over a wireless network. Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx is the only other New York hospital currently using the Vocera system.

Currently the Vocera System is being tested by more than 250 University Hospital employees in Equipment Management, Respiratory Therapy, Cardiology Patient Care and in the Emergency Department.

"This wireless communications system has the potential to redefine how the hospital staff members communicate with one another," said Ann Sedore, Ph.D., chief operating officer for University Hospital. "The pilot study will examine all aspects of the system to see how it enables more efficient and effective communications."

The Vocera Communications System uses a wireless network to operate which is why University Hospital is able to consider the technology. "University Hospital went wireless about 18 months ago so it could support many of these new applications, like the Vocera system," said Mark Zeman, director of Operations and Network Services for University Hospital's Division of Information Management and Technology (IMT). "Our wireless network gives us the advantage of providing the communications services to caregivers no matter where in the hospital they may be."

Employees involved in the pilot study have all participated in training sessions for the Vocera system. Joe Ziemba, manager of telecommunications with IMT, said that while there is a slight learning curve involved in using the technology, its main application is easy to master. "It may take a little while to get used to the technology, but for most people it's a breeze," he said. "All you have to do is push a button, identify who you need to speak with and you're instantly connected with that person."

Fran Dennis, a registered nurse who heads up University Hospital's cardiology patient floor, said the benefits of the new wireless communication system can be noticed immediately. "It saves nurses a lot of time and steps in summoning help to the bedside, when they need equipment or medical assistance," Dennis said. "A nurse no longer has to leave the bedside to get assistance. That's not only a benefit to nurses, but also patients."

Sedore believes the Vocera system can also make hospitals quieter by eliminating the need for an overhead hospital paging system. "Traditionally hospitals are supposed to be quiet places where patients getting much needed rest," she said. "But that's difficult to do when an overhead page is used to summon a nurse or doctor. We hope this system can make the overhead page a thing of the past."

In addition to offering instant communication, the Vocera system can also place l telephone calls simply by having the user recite the telephone number. The system also records messages for play back at a later time.

The pilot study will last through December, at which time administrators will explore the possibility of implementing the system hospital-wide.