Ochsner CIO discusses wireless strategy

Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans has had electronic medical records since the 1980s, but the large, multispecialty group practice and hospital system has gone through several expansions of late. Notably, the organization acquired several bankrupt hospitals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has extended its reach to community physicians who are not part of the group practice.

"The post-Katrina experience again taught us that we needed to think about the community," Ochsner Clinic CIO Dr. Lynn Witherspoon says in a podcast with Hospitals & Health Networks magazine. Ochsner made the 2008 "Most Wireless" list as part of the magazine's annual "Most Wired" survey.

As Ochsner was expanding, it also was trying to improve workflow on its main campus. Part of the strategy was to build a wireless network, a project that started more than a decade ago. "We were in the tradition of pushing computers around on carts that had to be plugged in the wall. There were restrictions on being able to move machines," Witherspoon says.

The IT department gave laptops to all physicians on the main campus to carry around with them, and, presumably, document patient encounters on. "We encouraged mobility," Witherspoon says. The technology originally was unreliable and rather slow, but it's improved as the cost of bandwidth and routers has come down, and now is an essential part of the Ochsner IT infrastructure.

"Because of increasing positive experience here on the main campus, we've extended wireless to our entire network," Witherspoon explains. "Today, it's routine as we would open a new clinic that everything is wireless everywhere." And not just physicians are taking advantage of the network; many nurses and administrators carry mobile devices, Witherspoon says. "I think it's made a major impact in terms of workflow efficiency--with just a browser," he says.

For more details on wireless technology at Ochsner:
- listen to the Hospitals & Health Networks podcast