It’s time to talk

Shachar Harari, chief business officer at Cardo Crew, discusses the limitations of traditional communications technology and how dynamic mesh communication can facilitate change for medical staff on the move

The increasing use of PPE during the coronavirus pandemic is making communication difficult between healthcare professionals and their patients

The COVID-19 outbreak has put a spotlight on the issues healthcare organisations and workers face when it comes to effective, concise communications between medical staff, whether that’s on the ward or between first responders.

And, given that it is now mandatory to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times, such as masks and visors, there can be real barriers to communication for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, making it difficult to hear, and be heard.

Additionally, healthcare staff can be hard to identify when wearing crucial full-body PPE, which makes it even more challenging.

Therefore, we have to enable doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to communicate in a way that’s as close to normal everyday speech as possible.

And we believe the answer lies in wireless mesh communication.

Given that it is now mandatory to wear personal protective equipment at all times, such as masks and visors, there can be real barriers to communication for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, making it difficult to hear, and be heard

Limitations of traditional healthcare communications

Firstly, let’s look at private mobile radio (PMR).

The walkie talkie is a bulky hand-held device that allows one person at a time to talk.

It uses ‘push-to-talk’ technology, so you physically need to press a button and risk cross contamination as the device gets handed from person to person.

And, while it offers great transmission range, it does require infrastructure in the form of base stations and repeaters.

Also, the user has to press a button and wait for his turn to speak, making the communication non-fluent and therefore difficult to use in emergency situations.

It’s also common to see medics using smart phones both for speech and text communication and increasingly to share image files like scans and photos of trauma or surgical procedures.

However, mobile usage is generally for person-to-person calls rather than group communication, which is often the need in a hospital setting.

Then there’s Bluetooth, a familiar technology used in certain hospital settings such as for cardiac catheterisation procedures.

It allows hands-free, two-way communication and it does not need additional infrastructure like a base station, so would seem ideal.

But it has three major drawbacks. Firstly, range is limited (usually up to 100m), so a medic may drop out of range when going to an adjacent ward.

Secondly, its daisy-chain configuration means that when one headset drops out the whole systems ceases to function.

Finally, it can be fiddly to set up in that you have to physically register each device to the network as you enter into service.

Why wireless mesh communication?

Wireless mesh communication using Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC) was specially designed for this kind of mission-critical application.

Wireless mesh communication using Dynamic Mesh Communication was specially designed for this kind of mission-critical application

It doesn’t replace the PMR or cellular, as each has their unique role, but it is particularly well suited to small work groups who need to exchange complex time-critical information in real time, under real pressure and with the added factors of PPE and social distancing.

First and foremost, it allows hands-free, two-way, natural-voice communication between everyone in the work group. You know who you are talking to and they can hear what you are saying loud and clear, and you can hear them.

Second,y, it’s an autonomous network with no need to install base stations and no need to rely on mobile cellular network coverage. And each device works like a mini communications hub in its own right.

This means it can work over a far-wider range than Bluetooth, as some of the units can act as repeaters to extend the range of the overall network.

It can also connect up to 15 users with a range of 3000m for the whole group, when used between six or more users. And it contains a voice activation feature, meaning a user does not have to touch any button, but rather say the relevant command out of 20 supported by the system.

And, if one person does drop out of the network temporarily, the rest of the team continues to function as the remaining devices dynamically reconfigure the network and carry on as normal.

This ‘self-healing’ function of DMC is essential for critical care environments and is a major advantage over Bluetooth.

The pandemic has forced organisations to think about the best options in terms of safety, effectiveness and reliability when it comes to communications and we definitely expect to see the wireless mesh communication market grow through collaboration with healthcare communication device manufacturers in the comings months and years

A final advantage is that it automatically signs you into the network as you come within range.

Ultimately, the pandemic has forced organisations to think about the best options in terms of safety, effectiveness and reliability when it comes to communications and we definitely expect to see the wireless mesh communication market grow through collaboration with healthcare communication device manufacturers in the comings months and years.

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