Advocate Healthcare is Illinois’ largest full-service health care company and the state’s second largest employer. Advocate operates eight acute care facilities, two children’s hospitals, several state-of-the-art medical facilities and a physician’s network of 4,600 doctors at over 200 sites, all of which necessitates that each associate have the ability to communicate quickly and efficiently. Standing up to this challenge, Advocate has implemented an IP network that ensures seamless communications across the entire company.
Advocate Health Care has grown through mergers, the addition of new facilities, and the creation of a physicians’ network. The mixed nature of Advocate’s communications network created a difficult situation on many levels. For instance, the cost of operating a separate voice only network was far too high. Additionally, it was difficult to integrate Advocate’s business systems, including its various call centers and automated customer service functions, because of the differences between hardware at each site. In fact, there were as many as 29 different management platforms in place. A single distributed communications network would make communication easier and faster, not only for patient care delivery, but also for overall operations.
It was important to deploy a single telephony standard throughout the entire Advocate infrastructure without completely disrupting its business operations. A dedicated voice network would enable remote management and automatic updating of all nodes in the network, and the deployment of new services across the network. A single telephony network would also provide a comprehensive call center that could handle the over 16,000 calls per day through their central appointment system.
Advocate’s new network implementation was a challenging undertaking; it was vital that any upgrade not disrupt business operations on a large scale, so it needed to be installed in pieces over time. The Alcatel OmniPCX Enterprise was the perfect solution, due to its flexibility and ability to interoperate with many existing systems. Using a combination of IP, digital, wireless, and analog technologies, Alcatel partnered with Advocate to devise a plan to migrate Advocate from its many disparate systems to a single network-wide communications system.
After reviewing the requirements at each location, the company decided to utilize its existing data infrastructure to support the voice network — this would also result in a significant cost savings. The redesigned IP communications platform provides Advocate with a next generation communications infrastructure that doesn’t sacrifice legacy systems and services.
Where possible, IP phones were installed parallel to the existing telecommunications systems. The corporate support center also was converted entirely to IP. Once the communications solution was operational, the old system was removed with no disruption. The flexibility and scalability of the communications server enabled each site on the network to be upgraded while communicating easily with the old infrastructure. This enabled a gradual migration to a new communications infrastructure.
Where IP was not needed, digital, analog, or wireless handsets were installed. Because the new communications solution is standards-based, it was possible to interface it with existing systems that provide additional services, thereby utilizing embedded equipment and easing the cost of migration.
The deployment of new functions, like mobile wireless handsets, Interactive Voice Response system (IVR), dial-by-name phone book, text messaging, and network-wide voicemail further enhanced the ability of Advocate’s associates to perform regular duties, while leaving room for potential future services. Today, doctors who have more than one office across different Advocate locations can have the same phone number and a single voice mail box, regardless of which office they are using at the moment. Ultimately, these features enable Advocate to serve its patients better and to operate more efficiently.
Because collaboration is essential to not only efficient operation, but also to any future communications enhancements, Advocate is conducting ongoing planning and trials to ensure that connectivity and effectiveness will not be sacrificed in the future. This includes investigating the use of Unified Communications; developing a strategy to use XML to create new services; and building a high capacity network to link two fully redundant data centers. This new high speed network will connect all of our Acute Care Centers and provide a hierarchical QoS to ensure speedy delivery of time sensitive data.
At one hospital, Advocate is using testing a tool to integrate its bed-tracking system to wireless handsets, which allows nurses to automatically page the responsible maintenance person to a specific room. The health care system also plans to upgrade its data network to incorporate 802.11, to provide physicians with handheld devices, and to integrate Alcatel’s OmniTouch Unified Communications software into the handheld devices. IT