Private wireless WAN breathes life into cardiology group

Friday, 13 February, 2009

SA Heart Centres, the largest cardiology group in Australia, recently updated its ageing communications network, which had been slowing the group’s development.

The Adelaide-based practice has 17 cardiologists and 70 staff and provides cardiac care to 60,000 patients each year. It operates six major clinics in suburban Adelaide, several smaller clinics in the Adelaide Hills and a rural outreach program at Mt Gambier, Port Lincoln, the Riverland and the Fleurieu Peninsula.

As it increasingly relied on technology to deliver services more effectively, SA Heart Centres was hampered by sluggish network performance that limited its ability to transmit high-resolution electronic medical records between branches in the metropolitan Adelaide region.

This forced the 23-year-old business to rely on paper-based systems, which meant cardiologists regularly had to transport hard copy medical records between branches to diagnose and treat patients.

In modern medicine, high-resolution imaging and prioritised application management are vital to deliver speedy diagnosis and life-saving reporting services. All images scanned on an ultrasound machine can accept limited image compression, which means that file sizes are often about 300 MB per image. Angiogram excerpts can contain up to 800 MB per image.

SA Heart Centres was unable to link its primary locations with a cost-effective, IP connection that could run faster than 10 Mbps. High-speed fixed-line communication links such as fibre optic were unviable because of their expense.

Practices connected by ADSL and unlicensed microwave links restricted cardiologists to low-bandwidth applications. Even high-speed ADSL lacked the capacity to transfer imaging and other applications relevant to SA Heart Centres operations.

SA Heart Centres chose MIMP connecting solutions to design, deploy and integrate a wireless WAN that could make electronic medical records available at its major clinics throughout the Adelaide metropolitan area.

The cardiology group required all sites to connect to the high-bandwidth microwave WAN. The project included the engineering installation of RF (radio frequency) locked profiles, full duplex prioritised applications and encryption across the entire network.

To meet SA Heart Centres’ need, MIMP installed a network comprising secure 120 Mbps licensed microwave links, which can be upgraded to as fast as 200 Mbps.

Using high-level encryption technology, the licensed and unlicensed microwave WAN provides a full duplex communication platform to distribute medical applications throughout the metropolitan practices.

The resulting network allows SA Heart Centres to prioritise imaging and applications over its network, ensuring they are transferred back and forth without delay.

Redundancy is built into the system. State-of-the-art servers are located at the Ashford Heart Centre head office with terabit RAID drives while a back-up imaging and booking server are at the Norwood Heart Centre. Pre-existing ADSL and legacy unlicensed microwave WAN services are used for redundancy.

The network provides secure VPN connections for vendors servicing all cardiology equipment. Office applications for bookings and patient records are encrypted across all networks. Proprietary microwave links, both licensed and unlicensed, use further security based on Cisco networking products.

The network is monitored online, 24 hours, seven days a week, by MIMP’s call centre. This live monitoring system uses SMS and email to notify of failures or preventable issues diagnosed before a failure. The benefit is that clinicians and employees remain free of any disruptions and often oblivious to problems.

The major benefit of the new communication network has been better patient care. Using the licensed wireless network, the major clinics in Adelaide can immediately access patient records stored at one central location. As well as eliminating possible loss or misplacement of physical records as cardiologists move between branches, it provides a complete patient history as they diagnose a patient.

The SA Heart Centres Communication Network project now helps to provide patients and referring doctors with better access to diagnostic reports, delivering a faster, more efficient reporting service. Benefits include providing cross-practice diagnosis drawing on sub-specialist cardiology expertise, with immediate response to a critical patient, as well as diagnosis from a cardiologist in the hospital setting for life-threatening operations.

SA Heart Centres has also realised cost savings and provided bandwidth to locations beyond the capability of a carrier with zero data transfer costs. The initial design allows the easy expansion of practices by letting them increase in size without the need to upgrade communication links.

This network allows SA Heart Centres to move to a paperless office and provides the platform for IP telephony to all sites.

SA Health Centres chairman Dr Bill Heddle says the MIMP network had done more than bring the organisation’s technology up to date: “MIMP has future-proofed our technology with a high-performance network and predictable costs,” he says.

“We are gaining a rapid return on our investment. In addition, we are very pleased with the support and service MIMP has delivered.”

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