"Clean up on aisle nine!” Perhaps such overhead pages are sufficiently effective in a grocery store, but in general, organizations with in-building mobile workers waste time and money each year due to such inefficient communication. And in hospital environments, delays due to ineffective overhead paging can be catastrophic.

That’s where the Vocera Communications System comes in. It is a network-based system that provides instant voice communication for mobile personnel in hospital environments. Vocera also can be used in any other environment with a dispersed in-building mobile work force, such as retail, hospitality, government, manufacturing and corporate services. Electrical contractors will do well to be familiar with Vocera systems in order to recommend them to clients when appropriate, especially when those contractors are in design/build or design/assist relationships.

Vocera is most easily described as a Star Trek-like communications system, in which users wear a small, light-weight pushbutton device that responds to naturally spoken voice commands in order to directly contact other users on the system for private, two-way communication.

To use Vocera, one must push the large single button on the front of the device, which directs the system to call someone by name (“Call Dr. Aaron Miller”), or by title (“Call a pediatrics nurse”), and Vocera will contact someone with that title who is currently logged into the network. The system then maintains the voice conversations over the wireless network as users go about their work or change departments, floors and even buildings within a networked campus.

By the way, if a user says, “Beam me up, Scotty,” the badge plays the Star Trek theme and responds, “Live long and prosper.”

The Vocera Communications System operates over a wireless LAN (802.11b/g). In other words, the same wireless access points that a cabling contractor installs for an owner’s computer network also will serve a Vocera system. In some cases, an owner’s decision to use a Vocera system may result in additional low--voltage cabling revenue for a contractor in order to increase the wireless footprint throughout a facility.

The Vocera system consists of two key components. First is the wearable communications badge, which weighs less than virtually any cell phone on the market (1.9 oz.), and it is smaller than many of them (4.2-by-1.4-by-.6 in.). A user can clip the badge to a shirt/jacket pocket or wear it in on a lanyard, thus enabling hands-free conversations. In addition, headsets are available for private conversations.

The second component is the software, which runs on a standard Windows server, using Internet protocol and a WLAN. It contains system intelligence, including call management, call connections and user profiles, as well as Nuance 8.5 speech recognition and voiceprint verification software.

Vocera’s Telephony Solution Software provides additional communication options beyond the wireless network, allowing users to call outside numbers from Vocera or to call into a Vocera system from the outside and speak directly to badge-wearing users.

Consider how Vocera can constructively impact a fairly routine hospital procedure. The El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., installed a 300-user Vocera system on a surgical floor. Previously, replacing an IV bag typically involved at least seven steps and four phone calls. A nursing assistant (NA) would press a patient’s call light and wait for a response. A unit secretary would answer the call light and receive the NA’s request. The unit secretary would then page a registered nurse (RN), who would answer the page or go to the nurse’s station. The unit secretary would relay the message, communicate the response back to the NA, and the RN would replace the IV bag.

With Vocera, the NA presses the button on the Vocera badge and immediately speaks with the RN. The patient is better served, and staff members are more effective.

And while Vocera gives everyone a lot more peace and quiet, with nearly all of the overhead paging eliminated, electrical contractors need not worry that it will cut into their overhead sound system cabling revenues. Most facilities will likely still opt for overhead sound capability for things like emergency weather-related or security lock-down announcements.

With more than 500 installations since 2002, ranging from 75 to 4,000+ users, electrical contractors are likely to see Vocera and similar technologies being installed in healthcare settings.

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.