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Wireless network lets providers share information

When Guglielmo Marconi began experimenting with radio waves in 1894, little did he know how thoroughly wireless communication would revolutionize the world. Today at DHMC, doctors use wireless technology to connect their laptop computers to the network so they can show medical information to patients or print patient-friendly medication descriptions.

"I make it a routine policy to turn the screen towards the patient as we review labs, other providers' notes, and studies," says internist Joshua Lee, M.D. "It goes a long way towards demystifying care."

Share: Much medical information, including patient records, is in electronic form nowadays— but it hasn't always been easy to share it with patients. Putting computers in exam rooms means doctors must log off and on the network between each patient. But with a wireless system, they can carry a laptop from exam room to exam room—or to offices or meeting rooms—while still logged on.

With "medical care increasingly complex and . . . fragmented," says Andrew Gettinger, M.D., director of DHMC's Clinical Information Systems (CIS), "an information system [that is] well-designed and clinician-friendly can help."

"DHMC is a leader in wireless technology both locally and nationally," says chief information officer Peter Johnson. "It's been three years since our fullscale deployment, while most academic medical centers . . . are just now starting to deploy wireless." Dartmouth began using wireless devices to manage inventory in the 1980s, and clinicians have been using wireless PCs since 1999.

"We are committed to providing wireless access where needed throughout our clinical settings," says Ernest LeBlanc, director of technical services. So far, wireless computing is available at the Lebanon campus and at clinics in Concord, Bedford, Manchester, and Nashua, N.H.

Today, some 160 clinicians in 27 specialties use wireless laptops to access records in the CIS, document patient encounters, enter medication or allergy information, check online pharmacology references, or e-mail referring doctors. "Documentation and prescription-writing improve when they're done at the point of care," says Johnson. "There is no rework, fewer mistakes, and vastly improved quality."

System: Security is a concern with wireless networks, however. Fortunately, DHMC already had a solid security system in place—based on Kerberos authentication software, developed at MIT. Kerberos encrypts data so eavesdroppers see only "gobbledygook," says LeBlanc.

While wireless computing undoubtedly makes physicians' jobs easier, its main goal is to provide superior clinical care. "If we do that well, everything else will follow," says Johnson.

Robyn E. Mosher

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