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Voalte Brings Some of First VoIP Technology to Healthcare Facilities

TMCnews Featured Article


June 28, 2011

Voalte Brings Some of First VoIP Technology to Healthcare Facilities

By Deborah Hirsch, TMCnet Contributor


You press the call button. Your IV port tubing is all tangled up with the phone wires. But your nurse can’t reach the doctor about increasing your medication.  And the doctor can’t get through to the nurse because he’s holding on the line, waiting for lab results. With the adoption of mobile technology growing in health care, these kinds of situations may never occur again.



While many businesses have learned the benefits of voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) services, healthcare organizations have not been anxious to use the technology, according to a story written by Richard Martin (News - Alert) and posted at mobilehealthcaretoday.com.

That’s because healthcare facilities worry about cost, security and privacy, workflow disruptions and network coverage, according to the story. But healthcare facilities probably more than most businesses need realtime communications and that’s why VoIP may soon be showing up at hospitals everywhere.

Software company Voalté (short for voice, alarm and text), today announced it is introducing an iPhone (News - Alert) messaging application in several hospitals across the United States designed to help patients, nurses and clinicians communicate better, according to a story at eWEEK.com.

“Voalté One for iPhone is a unified communications application that allows nurses and clinicians to connect through voice, alarm, text and instant-messaging on a secure network within a hospital facility,” Brian T. Horowitz reported in the story at eWEEK.com. “It allows calls to be placed on the hospital's VOIP system through WiFi (News - Alert) connectivity and integrated PBX (Private Branch Exchange), a type of private phone service for a specific location.”

VOIP stands for voice over Internet protocol, a technology for making telephone calls over the Internet in which speech sounds are converted into digital signals, then allowed to travel over the Internet, according to wikipedia.org.

The service allows patients to get the nurse just by pressing a bedside alarm when seeking help. The signal then travels over Wi-Fi to a nurse's iPhone, according to the story at eWEEK.com.

"Antiquated communications solutions, such as voice-only devices, are no longer adequate in the hospital environment because both parties must be available in order to communicate," Trey Lauderdale, vice president of innovation at Voalté, was quoted as saying in Horowitz’s story at eWEEK.com.

Smith’s story at modernhealthcaretoday.com talks about a survey of 100 nurses which was conducted last year by Spyglass Consulting Group, and which found that, while 66 percent of healthcare organizations are using VoIP services in some way, poorly designed networks, coverage gaps, privacy and the reluctance of nurses to take voice calls at patient bedsides are all getting in the way of VoIP acceptance. As a result, many  healthcare organizations have not taken advantage of the lower costs and the “presence" capabilities that show a user’s location and status,  and other features like voicemail-to-text, forwarding of calls to selected phones, and customized call routing – all capabilities that mobile VoIP offers.

But thanks to companies like Voalte, some hospitals are embracing VoIP.

Nebraska Medical Center, a 624-bed academic hospital  in Omaha, recently deployed Voalté, according to Smith’s story at mobilehealthcaretoday.com. Other facilities using the Voalte VOIP are  Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Josephs, Mo.; Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., and Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

"Partnerships of this sort continue to validate our commitment to increasing nursing excellence and patient safety," Lauderdale said in the story at eWEEK.com. He added that he aims to replace the older pagers and bulky VOIP phones that can't withstand heavy use.

"Communication is an essential ingredient for excellent patient care," Dawn Straub, Nebraska Medical Center's director of nursing professional practice and development, was quoted as saying in the story. "We recognize the importance of smartphone technology and how it can give our nurses more time with their patients."

Meanwhile, according to Horowitz’s story, Heartland moved Voalté to 275 customized iPhones, with one system going live at the beginning of the year and additional one in April. 

Horowitz reports that among the biggest benefits to using Voalté is an increase in response time for nurses in the hospital, according to Julia Jacobs, a registered nurse at Heartland.

"We can call doctors, we can page them directly to our Voalté phones, which is helpful because we don't have to sit at a desk and wait for them to call us back," Jacobs told eWEEK. 

"It's just made a big difference in terms of doing asynchronous communications, allowing you to send a message and go about your business without having to wait for someone to pick up on the other line," agreed Dr. Joe Boyce, Heartland CMIO, as reported in the story.  "It's helped a lot in terms of quick one-way messages and not having to waste a bunch of time with the formalities of conversation," Boyce told eWEEK as reported at the web site. "It increases the speed of communication significantly." 

Horowitz wrote in the story that Jacobs noted that the texting feature is particularly helpful when seeking assistance from other staff to help lift patients out of bed or give them a bath. Nurses also text prescriptions to the pharmacy on the floor, she added in the story.

But it may turn out to be very expensive to provide VOIP. In a story reported by Kim Hart at politico.com, the FCC (News - Alert) is trying to figure out what digital-age companies should pay to connect calls to the old telephone network. One idea? Higher rates for low-cost or “free” Internet calls, according to the story.


Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM (News - Alert) in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny







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