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IT-intensive Healthcare Prime Arena for AV Applications

Nov 27, 2006 8:00 AM, By John McKeon


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Today’s healthcare relies on being able to access, transport, display, and analyze huge amounts of data—including, increasingly, high-definition video displays of diagnostic images and other materials—more than ever before.

This trend is driving designers and builders of healthcare facilities to attach paramount importance to information technology infrastructure, and to focus more than ever on ways to put high-end imaging and displays at the command of doctors and other healthcare providers.

Tim Adams, associate director, Engineering and Compliance at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, recently briefed members of the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) on how the growing emphasis on IT and AV is changing the demands of their business.

“For a 400-bed hospital, implementation of a new integrated hospital information system can cost more than it would to build and equip a 150,000-square-foot addition to the hospital,” Adams says.

Imaging accounts for the lion’s share of the bandwidth being demanded by modern healthcare IT systems, Adams explains. This trend, in turn, is linked to another current development: the opportunity for hospitals to take advantage of the expertise of radiologists and other specialists in far-off corners of the globe. “We can transmit high-resolution images anywhere in the world,” Adams says.

This means an emergency physician treating a patient at three a.m. may not have to roust a radiologist from a warm bed and wait for him or her to reach the hospital to evaluate an image. Instead, the image can be sent via the Internet to a radiologist in, say, India, and an evaluation can be obtained in minutes instead of hours.

The volume of data is a strong argument in favor of using fiber-optic networks in hospitals and similar settings, Adams says. Jim Colquhoun, vice president/ technical services at Audio-Visual Innovations, agrees, noting that it is often necessary to route images from the MRI or other imaging system to an operating room.

“If the doctor wants to see those images immediately, we get into moving some huge files,” he says. “The existing infrastructure just can’t handle it.”

Colquhoun also cites fiber’s resistance to electronic interference as a plus. “In a medical setting, we are having to put displays in the neighborhood of MRIs,” Colquhoun says. “How can I keep that from impacting my pictures?”

The steady expansion of IT’s role in medical care can sometimes present the AV integrator with a dilemma, as well. Often, hospitals and other medical facilities just aren’t built with an awareness of how much equipment needs to be attached to the network to get maximum benefit from the data flow.

“We see places where we have put in vast amounts of connectivity, but don’t have ways to power the equipment that will use that connectivity.” Wherever there is a network jack, Adams says, there should be a quad electrical outlet.

Likewise, retrofitting an existing structure, or leaving the AV and IT cabling for late in the construction process, can create problems. “The greatest problem is penetrating through fire barriers,” Adams says. Fire codes typically require that these safety barriers be uninterrupted, yet cable installers may break through the fire barriers to access parts of the building. “If we can provide a pathway,” Adams says, “they can easily go in and add cabling to the infrastructure as we go along.”

To help anticipate and respond to these needs, Adams adds, “the owner should have a network/cabling representative as part of the construction progress team.”



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