Walter Reed prescribes ATM

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center is replacing its tired and sickly information
systems network with a new architecture.


At the Washington medical center—the Army’s largest—an asynchronous
transfer mode network project will give the hospital better speed and fluidity in its
information systems, hospital officials said.


It will also put more flat-panel displays in patient wards and support as many as 470 X
Window terminals, said Capt. Richard J. Gordon, the center’s chief information
officer.


Science Applications International Corp. contractors are now wiring the data center in
Walter Reed’s main hospital to ATM closets, Gordon said.


Reed chose ATM technology over Ethernet because it can accommodate virtual LANs and
because it brings 100-Mpbs connectivity, he said. The new LAN, being built under a $17
million contract, will go online in November.


Bay Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., is providing the hubs, routers and switches.
3Com Corp., also of Santa Clara, is installing network cards in the workstations and PCs.


The system will replace a hodgepodge of networks that had been installed at the
hospital over the years, Gordon said.


Walter Reed officials said hubs in the old system were unreliable and that the hospital
had trouble finding replacement parts.


“It was dying fast,” Gordon said of the old system.


The ATM network will satisfy most user requirements, he said, but only temporarily.


“Trying to keep up with the demand is difficult. As quick as we put the wires in,
information technology and medical technology needs seem to grow,” Gordon said.


The medical center maintains a separate fiber-optic network to fulfill the radiology
system’s higher data communication needs, he said. Gordon and his systems colleagues
provide support to 5,000 users in Walter Reed’s main hospital and related sites.


Roughly half of Walter Reed’s patient wards depend on digital files to record
patient progress, treatment and vital sign flowcharts, said Lt. Col. Gregory Grant, the
hospital’s clinical informatics chief. The medical center is buying flat panel
displays for patient wards because they do not have enough space for regular displays,
Gordon said.


Other departments, including pediatrics and surgery, also use electronic patient
records; the rest of the hospital’s wards will be paperless eventually.


“There are no more silver binders in those wards,” Gordon said of the former
method of storing patient records.


Walter Reed’s version of the Clinicomp system, a Unix system sponsored by the
Defense Department’s Office of Health Affairs, includes two Silicon Graphics Inc.
servers that back one another up and a third that houses a global database. The system is
from CliniComp International of San Diego.


The medical center’s Clinical Information System has 467 X Window terminals and
100 PCs running under X Window. The majority of the terminals are from Network Computer
Devices Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. n

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