Every hospital IT manager or CIO says the same thing these days: that they’re trying to do more with less. Whether it’s due to reduced staff, trimmed budgets or old/damaged equipment that can’t be repaired or replaced, there always is more to do and less resources available to do it. Indeed, one healthcare IT professional recently said that he was surprised that the C-suite didn’t put the toasters and clothes irons on the list of devices for which his department was responsible.

Many already have been burned trying to do more by consolidating what they already have, which created strange mash-ups of telephony, RF and biomed technologies, alongside traditional data-center and desktop-support departments. This most often results in one big monster of many systems that appear analogous to the layperson, but really are quite diverse.

Adding to the challenge are mounting pressures that are impacting the healthcare sector, such as funding constraints, government regulation and litigation risks. This puts added pressure on the organization from the top down to do more with less and ultimately drives decisions toward advanced technology that simplifies and helps streamline patient care.

Zoned communications systems are an example of technology that helps hospitals and their IT departments do more with less. Such systems have three main benefits, as follows:

Higher quality, better service. The old-school paging or public-address systems that are legacy in most healthcare facilities do not have the capacity to be zoned, so no distinction can be made between the targeted staff and departmental areas and the hallways and patient-care areas. This means that patient-care areas — intended to be places of refuge and quiet, which studies have shown to be more conducive to healing — are receiving non-critical “all-call” announcements along with critical pages. This additional, unnecessary noise pollution reduces the overall desired level of patient care and in turn reduces a hospital’s appeal and reputation as a restful healing environment.

At the same time, hospitals must consider staff workflow. When it is predictable and more focused, in the result is improved patient care and a reduction in staff errors. The additional noise introduced by non-critical pages reduces staff attention to critical pages over time, and makes for a less focused, more confusing workplace environment.

A zoned communication system eliminates unnecessary pages and provides a hospital staff with a greater level of control over where pages are being sent and received. Newer systems also have other advanced functions, such as ambient noise compensation, that play a key part in the overall “quieting” of the patient-care and staff areas.

Do more with less. Zoned systems are by definition network-friendly systems, since creating a zoned infrastructure is impossible without networking features. The fact that these systems employ similar transport protocol to existing data networks makes the maintenance of them much easier for existing IT staff. It also allows them to do more with less hardware. Gone are the miles of wire that need to be pulled to each individual communication station. Most end points in the system are intuitive Ethernet connections, so installing and expanding the system is easier.

Zoned systems also make it easier for the system to share data about its performance; so, fewer people are needed to monitor and maintain the overall health of the system (no pun intended). From any connected point, a member of the IT staff can log in and receive updates almost instantaneously. In an emergency situation, this network feedback can become invaluable, as it helps to determine which zones are still functional and which may have been fatally damaged.

Hospital employees also can send pages more easily and do more with them. From any networked terminal, pages can be created and sent, zones can be combined or unbundled for specific pages, and specific tones can be added to denote particular types of pages.

Prepared for the future. Networked systems are easier to deploy, scale and maintain, both remotely and reliably. Specifically, a zoned system can be fully operational even if the entire facility isn’t. For example, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., took a multi-phased approach to renovating its facility. They wanted to have one wing fully up-and-running while the other wings were being worked on. Using a zoned approach, they were able to install a system that is now running and can be expanded easily and quickly once the next phase of renovation is complete. The communications system will grow as the hospital grows, saving them time and money while ensuring top-notch patient care in the process.

Many technologies help streamline patient care, while reducing risk at the same time, and zoned communication systems certainly fall into this category. Every hospital and healthcare facility should take a look at its overhead paging and public-address system and consider how a zoned approach could help make operations safer and more efficient.

T.J. Adams is the public-address systems product manager at Beaverton, Ore.-based Biamp Systems, overseeing the Vocia product line. Prior to joining Biamp, he worked as an IT administrator at the Tucson (Ariz.) International Airport, and was a sales engineer at Com-Net Software, where he worked with public-address systems.