Children’s National Medical Center Embraces New Converged Voice and Data Network


Outdated or poorly functioning communications systems are a problem for any business, but for a hospital, an obsolete communications system can be detrimental to patient health. Hospitals or other organizations dealing with emergency or life-threatening situations need a unified communications system for voice and data to seamlessly connect multiple sites. Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in Washington, D.C. recently took a large step forward in updating their voice and data communication systems. The 130-year-old institution recently set out to improve communications throughout its main hospital and more than 20 satellite locations by upgrading its IT infrastructure to a converged network that would address present and future communication needs.

Part of CNMC’s mission is to improve health outcomes for children both locally and globally. In pursuit of this mission, in 2005 alone they served patients through 11,825 inpatient admissions and 347,357 outpatient visits. CNMC is committed to medical education providing clinical training to over 100 physicians as residents or fellows as well as medical student training in association with George Washington University. Children’s also supports grant and contract-funded basic research through Children’s Research Institute (CRI). In 2005, CNMC introduced a five-year strategic plan to improve facilities and expand services in order to maintain its status as a national leader in pediatric healthcare. Included in this is a new hospital wing, the East Inpatient Tower, to be opened later this year.

To assist them in their IT infrastructure improvement, Children’s turned to Dimension Data, a global company specializing in IT services and solutions. “There were a few business challenges the hospital was facing especially due their planned expansions,” said Dimension Data’s Mary Beth Tourbin, business development manager for IP telephony/ customer interactive solutions. Tourbin added, “the existing telephony environment was not healthy so we came in to help.”

Children’s needed to identify, deploy, and manage systems that would allow for scalability and future growth in a secure and dependable manner. CNMC needed both voice and data infrastructure assessed for its ability to meet future needs. Dimension Data led an analysis of existing systems by first taking an inventory of all equipment as well as noting the condition of software revisions, VLAN design and routing protocols, and an IP addressing review. They also analyzed voice infrastructure and interviewed personnel for input on the voice network to be implemented.

The analysis included investigating telecom design, voice mail configuration, power protection, and cabling, as well other aspects of the system. The inventory revealed a 20-year-old network, which was unstable and limited in its ability to expand. In healthcare, the reliability of communication systems may be a matter of life and death for the patient. This made it imperative that CNMC implement a reliable system with redundancy backup. A new network and communication system was clearly needed.

Dimension Data maintains a strong alliance relationship with Cisco Systems, a global networking company that provides hardware, software, and services. After the analysis, a plan was detailed for the present, six months, and in a year after the analysis utilizing a variety of products from Cisco. These included Cisco Unified MeetingPlace and CallManager. The plan included a new system with a converged voice, data, and video network.

Children’s initial solution included deployment of 600 IP phones using higher capacity CallManager clusters and Unity servers. These were installed after a trial deployment for 50 users. The eventual system for all locations will include at least 6,000 stations. The upgrade also included MeetingPlace a rich media conferencing solution. As part of MeetingPlace, 128 audio conferencing and 100 Web conferencing User Lines as well as an audio conferencing server, three application-integration services, and networking hardware were installed. Tourbin adds, “The new system provides audio conferencing, Web conferencing, and video conference something the hospital did not previously have, allowing them not only to be able to communicate throughout the organization, but to save on travel time between disparate locations.” The system is expected to increase productivity by making remote meetings as effective as face-to-face meetings.

Training was included as part of the deployment. CNMC has its own training department so Dimension Data took a train-the-trainer approach. These team members have then trained individual users throughout the medical center.

The upgraded system provides increased security through a more reliable infrastructure than that previously in use. According to Tourbin, “The new system provides redundancy that the environment lacked” between the main hospital and their remote data center at Silver Spring, Maryland. This redundancy will greatly simplify any future disaster recovery processes. Tourbin concludes, “All of this will give Children’s a very solid platform in which to grow not only on the data infrastructure, but on the voice infrastructure as well.” The platform is expected to give CNMC a stronger edge to do their business of providing the best care for children.

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