When clinicians start voicing their frustration about wasting time in getting priority information, IT takes it seriously. That was precisely the case at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust, one of the largest healthcare providers in Southwest London, which provides a wide range of acute, community, and tertiary clinical services to both a local and national population. The Trust’s main campus, St George’s Hospital, is co-located with St George’s University of London medical school and research center.
For voice communication, the hospital and university were sharing a traditional PBX system. Limitations abounded:
- Each person had an extension number, but available numbers were reaching capacity for its allowable range.
- Business users were cabled physically to numbers, so they couldn’t roam or indicate availability to colleagues through presence features.
“Our primary goal was to improve clinician mobility and the availability of information,” says Kerman Jasavala, Assistant Director of IT, St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust. “Right now, clinicians carry many different devices, which is a personal inconvenience and can be an obstacle to effective communication. We also wanted to improve our IT efficiency, agility, and spend. From an IT perspective, moves, adds, and changes for physical switches and cables became a time consuming and expensive proposition.”
Starting with the network
Upon attending a workshop at the Cisco® Executive Briefing Center, the St George’s IT team received expert guidance on modernizing its voice capabilities for improved resilience and cost reduction. Cisco recommended a single unified communications (UC) system between the hospital and the university. But to realize the potential of UC, the network needed to be strengthened.
“St George’s is a perfect example of why we created the Cisco Network Architecture Blueprint for NHS Trusts,” says Terry Robinson, U.K. Health Sector Manager, Cisco. “Our vision behind that blueprint is to advocate an architectural approach that links ICT investment with business and clinical priorities directly. Business-led NHS ICT can play an integral role in delivering greater productivity while also supporting new channels of care.”
St George’s implemented the Cisco Nexus® product line as the foundation of its new network operating core. St George’s then installed the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®) platform, which consolidated its virtual servers and readied the environment for UC.
“Running UC on Cisco UCS® is a distinct advantage for us because we get direct integration into the network core,” says Sam Pearson, Head of IT Networks and Communications, St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust. “With that, we can experience better bandwidth consumption, performance, functionality, and speed across the internal network. And the network hardware is much easier to manage.”
With the investment in Cisco networking, Cisco UCS also became a strategic option for St George’s server and desktop virtualization:
“St George’s is trialing Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), with a focus on enabling session persistence in clinical areas,” says Justin Beardsmore, Head of IT Infrastructure, St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust. “With those capabilities, combined with the new UC system, clinicians will gain access to both their desktops and phone numbers while roaming between clinics, wards, and hospitals. The main goal is to try to give people the option to use the end device of their choice.”
Industry demands for agility
Clinician frustration wasn’t the only factor exerting pressure for change and modernization. The next five years will be a very challenging time for NHS organizations. They must find strategic ways to respond to the Coalition Government’s reform and reconfiguration plans, continue to innovate in delivering patient-centric care, and operate in an environment bound by strict austerity measures.
To address cost savings requirements, the NHS has established the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) program, which aims to save £20 billion during the next five years. The aim is to reinvest in patient-centric initiatives to meet the increasing demand for health and care services.
“All NHS organizations are under pressure, and mergers and/or service reconfigurations are quite commonplace,” says Jasavala. “We have to make ourselves as agile as possible to respond effectively to the changes by extending and integrating with other organizations. The focus is on providing more services, increased flexibly, at less cost.”
The UC implementation is one way that St George’s is responding to the agility demands. Currently, 200 people across the Trust are trialing the new system to gauge the user experience. The functionality is greatly improved with extension mobility, Microsoft Office integration, and virtual desktop integration.
“One phone solution is much easier to manage,” says Pearson. “Our engineers are not cabling node to node and don’t have to deal with moving ports, configuring connections, and standing up phones. Our focus is on providing a more effective service for the same cost. With this UC system, our IT team will be more efficient and cost effective, and our clinicians will be able to move at the pace of care.”