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Will Wi-Fi lower nurses' blood pressure?

A growing number of hospitals are installing Wi-Fi phone systems in order to attract nurses to their facilities and help them deal with the fast-paced environment.

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A growing number of hospitals are installing Wi-Fi phone systems in order to attract nurses to their facilities and help them deal with the fast-paced environment.

The devices could be a perfect fit for hospital nursing, a truly on-the-go profession. Besides using the phones to make or receive calls, nurses can use the high-speed connection to transfer records when within a 300-foot radius of a Wi-Fi access point. Wi-Fi technology lets people access a network wirelessly and share resources on that network.

Nurses can carry the phones to answer doctors' pages on the spot, rather than have to hustle to a nursing station telephone. They also can use laptops or phones to update medical charts at bedsides.

Most hospitals have relied on desktop phone systems. "Let's say they got a page," said Jeff Lett, senior director of technical operations at Tenet Healthcare. "They had to interrupt their rounds, rip off the blood-pressure cuff, and run to phone--or continue on and make the doctor livid."

Medical facilities are notoriously gun-shy about new technologies. But a severe nursing shortage has hospital operators willing to give anything a try.

When Tenet Healthcare asked nurses what would make life easier, "the nurses came back and said wireless phones," Lett said.

Each phone costs $1,300--about four times the cost of an average desktop phone--a price tag that has scared away even the most tech-savvy businesses. Use of the phones has so far been limited to companies with huge warehouses such as Target, said Allen Nogee, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR.

"There are other solutions like walkie-talkies that are a lot simpler than this," he said. "For now, it's a very small, specialized market."

Tenet said it will spend about $4 million on Wi-Fi equipment and has already installed systems in 78 of its 119 hospitals. "I think we're (supplier) SpectraLink's second-largest customer," Lett said.

Catholic Healthcare West, which operates 42 hospitals, and New York's Long Island Jewish Medical also intend to install Wi-Fi phone systems.

A combined 44 percent of nurses surveyed in 2003 by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society said they were proponents of mobile communications gear and the instant access they provide inside hospitals.

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