Over the past few years, Plymouth Healthcare Community has been building a state of the art communications infrastructure to support the delivery of healthcare services.

The new infrastructure is being introduced by the Plymouth information and communication technologies services team, which supports 10,000 users across Plymouth Hospitals trust, Plymouth teaching primary care trust, and 45 GP surgeries.

For healthcare workers, voice communications are critical. Telephone systems must be able to provide a consistent user experience for all workers, whether they work in a hospital, a local surgery or clinic, or from a remote site based in the community, such as an NHS dental unit.

IP systems

Recognising that traditional telephony created unnecessary barriers to effective communications, Plymouth began to phase in IP telephony (combined data, voice and video) from provider Mitel. This allowed it to continue using existing private branch exchange equipment.

"The key objective was that we didn't have to replace our existing system, and we were able to migrate to IP at our pace," said Plymouth ICT services infrastructure manager Rob Harder.

Plymouth now has 2,300 IP phones based in different buildings across the sites, and the plan is to migrate all 6,000 to IP across the 80 sites by 2014

Key benefits

According to Mr Harder, the system has overcome the challenges of traditional telephony, providing a consistent voice communications experience, regardless of location. "Communications can be extended to anyone wherever they are on the wired or wireless network," he added.

One of the main reasons for moving to a new system was to enhance workforce mobility. In 2007, Plymouth deployed an Aruba wireless network at one of the largest hospitals in the country, Derriford Hospital. With 60 per cent coverage now in place in the main Derriford Hospital and GP medical assessment centre, doctors and nurses can remain in constant contact with one another while on the move.

Mr Harder's team is looking into how other staff such as porters can benefit from this technology. Using the system, a work order can be created and dispatched to a porter simply by sending them a text message informing them of the job. The porter can then choose to accept or reject it. If they accept, a message is dispatched to their manager notifying them that the job is under way. This could help achieve faster response times.

Call centres

Another project for Mr Harder and his team focused on improving staff and patient communications. Installing call flow management software at Derriford Hospital allowed them to set up contact centres for the internal IT helpdesk and the central appointment booking centre. The internal IT helpdesk has been a great tool for supporting staff on IT-related issues, while the booking centre has made it a lot easier for patients to contact the hospital about an appointment.

"We are now able to monitor an agent's performance, providing a critical understanding of call activity, which means we can now resource more effectively. We now have visibility of the calls in the queue so we can ensure agent staffing levels match the volume of calls. And while in the queue, we can now provide callers with informative messages to reassure them that their calls will be dealt with as promptly as possible."

For more details on the system, see www.mitel.com

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