Saving lives with roving LANs

Most companies implement a wireless LAN to support mobility within their facility or environment, such as a corporate office, warehouse or lumberyard. By unplugging the access point and placing it on a mobile platform (such as an ambulance), you can create a roving wireless LAN that opens the door to new and beneficial applications.

Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare tried just that. By using multiple types of wireless data communications between hospitals and accident sites, the IS Swede system gives better care to victims at accident sites and while they travel to the hospital. IS Swede is currently in pilot testing in the Ostergotland and Vastmanland counties, with 51 ambulances and seven hospitals taking part. The board of health and welfare plans to expand the system to all ambulances and hospitals within Sweden over the next two years.

IS Swede combines many wireless technologies, including mobile computing, wireless LANs, wireless WANs, and a global positioning system (GPS). Paramedics equipped with handheld, radio-equipped data collection devices can communicate with doctors and access medical records while treating victims.

At the accident scene, paramedics use Symbol 1740 devices to collect a patient's critical measurements, including pulse, blood pressure, medication administered and overall condition. The Palm OS-based SPT 1740 includes a bar code scanner and Symbol Spectrum24 wireless LAN radio. The paramedic enters the vital information, which is stored in memory on the SPT 1740 and transmitted to a Symbol Spectrum24 access point in the ambulance. Then it's transmitted in real-time to doctors and the patient database at the hospital. Doctors quickly analyze the patient's information and respond to the paramedic with treatment instructions. The system can also accurately identify allergies to medicines by accessing the patient's health records stored in the hospital database.

The SPT 1740 can also record medications given to the patient, including a timestamp, providing accurate information for further treatment of the patient while in the ambulance and after arriving at the hospital. The paramedic places a bar code on the patient that provides a tie between the patient, the data stored on the SPT 1740 and the hospital's database. This enables patient identification and access to applicable treatment information.

The access point in the ambulance offers a range of 200 feet for the 1740 device. The access point connects to a wired Ethernet LAN that interconnects with a Mobitex radio also inside the ambulance. The Mobitex radio completes the wireless WAN link to the hospital, enabling continuous connectivity with the hospital while the ambulance is stationary or moving.

The GPS onboard lets the area hospital know the exact time and location of the ambulance, to best schedule emergency room staff and other treatment resources. This informaation lets the hospital fully prepare the right emergency staff and resources long before the ambulance arrives. It's just-in-time treatment for incoming patients.

The National Board of Health and Welfare chose Swedish system integrator Hogia Raddningssystem to implement the IS Swede program. Hogia, a Symbol partner, used Ericsson products for the Mobitex wireless WAN and TietoEnator Trigon for the software. Hogia officials say the project went smoothly and recommends the formation of a solid partnership with the appropriate suppliers for hardware and software, especially when the solution has the technical breadth of IS Swede.

Because a system like IS Swede requires power from a mobile platform, Hogia also recommends that designers of a roving wireless LAN carefully consider electrical power requirements. The mobile platform, such as an ambulance, needs to supply sufficient electrical power for the additional communications equipment. In this application, battery life for the access point is equally important as battery life in the handheld device.

The positive results of IS Swede provide a blueprint for hospitals in other countries to follow. In addition to saving lives, the concept of a roving wireless LAN can apply to similar applications, such as parcel tracking at delivery locations (via delivery trucks), evidence tracking at crime scenes (via police cars) and repair order management at repair sites (via repair trucks).

This story, "Saving lives with roving LANs" was originally published by Network World.

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