News and Articles

Down to the Wire

Are you looking to cut the wires out of your nurse call replacement? Wireless nurse call is spreading into the skilled nursing arena because it allows for simple and rapid installation into any building, regardless of age. This is especially important for existing facilities where installing new equipment is invasive and time consuming. Wireless also allows residents the flexibility to be anywhere in their room or the nursing facility and have their call button along.

Despite the flexibility of its installation, there are concerns with using wireless nurse call in skilled nursing facilities. These concerns include adequate facility coverage, battery and/or pendant replacement costs, ability of the system to handle large call volumes, ability to locate the resident, device failure, loss and/or breakage of equipment, and lack of two-way voice communication. Another major difference between wired and wireless is that the wired systems constantly monitor each device and can alert the staff if there is a failure in any equipment. This is an important feature, and many of the wireless systems program their devices to periodically ‘check in’, but the more they do this, the more their battery life is reduced.

“Despite the flexibility of its installation,…Owners must be very careful in selecting the right product for their community.”

Most state codes have not yet caught up to the technology and do not specifically recognize wireless nurse call systems. Some states are beginning to allow wireless systems on a case-by-case basis as health codes are rewritten. Until then, building Owners must be very careful in selecting the right product for their community. A waiver from the Department of Health (or similar authority having jurisdiction) will be required for approval of a wireless system in a skilled nursing environment until codes are completely updated.

Additionally, UL currently only addresses wired systems in its UL 1069 Standard. This standard only applies to the construction and testing of wired systems and cannot be applied to wireless systems. A new UL standard for testing wireless systems needs to be developed so that there are minimum requirements manufacturers must meet.

Due to these concerns with wireless, Owners can opt for a hybrid wired/wireless system. The hybrid system gives an Owner the robust, reliable, wired backbone that supports two-way voice communications, while the wireless overlay gives flexibility and peace of mind to the residents. There are two ways to accomplish a hybrid system. The first is to use a manufacturer that can provide both wired and wireless products that work from the same central ‘head-end’ equipment. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of companies that can offer this. The second approach is to purchase the desired features from separate manufacturers in wired and wireless technologies and then use software to blend the systems.

Wireless nurse call systems are making inroads to the skilled nursing realm because of their flexibility and ease of installation. Just remember that this is a critical system to resident health. Be sure to consider its advantages and disadvantages when selecting a solution to offer residents.

– W. Blair Malcom, PE