An Indispensable Role

An Indispensable Role

Why single source technology integrations join during early phases of construction of hospitals and clinics

Today, there is significant increase in the number of hospitals, clinics and outpatient centers that are being built or remodeled across the country, in part due to the rise in demand for healthcare from an aging population and more access to health insurance. To accommodate this rapid growth, however, requires a sophisticated level of technology integration that goes beyond brick-and-mortar construction to the design and installation of networking, communications, electronic record-keeping and patient/staff security systems.

As a result, the healthcare industry is increasingly turning to single source technology integrators during the earliest phases of construction that can design, install and manage an integrated package of systems while coordinating with other more traditional aspects of construction.

AN INTEGRAL WHOLE

Integration, defined on dictionary.com as “an act or instance of combining into an integral whole,” can be a somewhat vague concept because the combination of parts can be unending, while each individual solution is specific to the application.

What is known is that the best integrators are those that have an extensive knowledge of the available products and component parts of any system and are able to connect them together in a manner that extracts significant added value. In other words, the “whole” [a properly integrated system] should be much greater than the sum of its parts.

In healthcare, with new construction booming, integration has taken on new meanings as well. To start, technology integration in new hospital, medical group or clinic construction now encompasses an array of options from network IT and Wi-Fi access points, to access control systems, physical security cameras, alarms, VoIP phones, nurse call systems and environmental and temperature monitoring – to name a few.

Then, there is integration of effort and coordination with other aspects of new construction when installing such systems.

COORDINATING WITH THE GENERAL CONTRACTOR

Technology integration, it turns out, is not covered under the umbrella of the general contractor. That means technology integrators, often hired by building owners, must coordinate and integrate their efforts with the general contractor and associated plumbers, electricians, drywall installers, painters and other tradesmen in a side-by-side effort.

In addition, technology integrators often coordinate with healthcare company personnel tasked with overseeing specific aspects of the installation, whether environmental control managers, IT staff or physical security experts.

In short, any integration – if not properly coordinated, scheduled and executed with accommodations for last minute changes, etc. – can be a nightmare for those responsible for managing the overall effort and all the contractors.

To avoid this scenario, healthcare companies are turning to single source companies that not only can handle the full array of technologies, but can do so down to the installation of the low voltage wiring, cabling, conduit trays, wireless antennas, hubs, electronic equipment racks and even the locks on the exit doors.

“By working with a single source technology provider that offers a menu of technology offerings, there is an advantage of having a single point of contact for overall system design, installation, management and support,” says Eric Brackett, President of BTI Communications Group, a technology convergence provider serving the healthcare, logistics and aerospace sectors.

Brackett said that this can save healthcare organizations significant time and money in technology consultation, along with saving “a lot of aggravation and headaches” related to managing construction staff.

EVOLVING TECHNOLOGYINTEGRATION

Traditionally, voice, data, network and physical security system purchases have been made independently. Security cameras and access control systems, for example, are implemented by security integrators, while VoIP phone systems are installed by telecom providers. In this approach, each vendor offers a proprietary solution with little consideration as to how it will be converged with other aspects of the network.

However, integration of these applications during new construction or remodeling can offer immediate significant revenue, security, and savings to a healthcare organization’s bottom line, Brackett said.

“If you go to a traditional vendor in commercial security, VoIP or even IT, they may try to interest you in products that are currently promoted,” says Brackett. “It might not end up being a fully operational solution to the business problem they are attempting to solve.”

“Some vendors may not comprehend the full integration potential and so are not able to go the extra mile to deliver advanced functional capabilities that are built into the system,” Brackett said.

For example, an access control system can be integrated with the HR database to coordinate changes in employee status such as termination, to automatically activate or deactivate an employee keycard. If that same employee has remote access to the security cameras, the network can disable the account immediately.

MANAGING COSTS

Although technology integrators sound like a high-end service with a commensurate price tag, that is not the case. An integrated approach to IT with the best-of-breed solutions on the market delivers economies of efficiency and scale that are often passed on to the customer.

When engaging with a managed IT service provider, Brackett says it is also important that customers know what they are paying for with contracts that clearly spell out each installed product, feature, and support item or service they are purchasing.

Technology integrators should bear the cost of providing an initial assessment of their needs. The bid should itemize the costs for equipment and support. The vendor should anticipate future upgrade paths in order to provide transparency to future expenses. In this way, a customer knows their initial, ongoing and upgrade costs and can budget accordingly.

“Pricing transparency was a big factor in our telecom system purchase decision,” said Brett Stephen, director of information systems at Heart Care Centers of Illinois, a 5-center network of cardiovascular clinics, who selected BTI as their telecom partner. “In 14 years of supporting our telecom needs, we have not once been surprised by pricing even as we have upgraded features and added reporting tools.”

ONGOING IT MANAGEMENT AND SUPPORT

It is important to note also that the role of the technology integrator does not end once the system is installed. Proactive monitoring should be employed, so that the system actively oversees technology performance to identify anomalies even before a malfunction occurs. Problems are addressed proactively often without the customer even knowing about it. When site visits are required, the monitoring system dispatches an engineer without interrupting the customer.

“Our 24-hour monitoring system sends me alarms by email, text, and phone. I am always in the know whether I am at work or remote, and I only have to deal with one vendor,” says Charles Lomboy, Director of Physical Plant Management at Los Angeles- based AltaMed, a 46-site health clinic network that serves nearly 1 million patient visits annually. The company uses BTI networks for CCTV, access control and burglar alarms.

With a proactive model, far fewer healthcare IT resources are used. This minimizes the impact on daily operations and enables an IT department to focus on the core business rather than babysitting systems for lower level network needs.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2020 issue of Security Today.

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