AV Collaboration Tools in Healthcare

Beth Machall-Dwyer, Sales Executive

ESCO Communications has an impressive history of creating sophisticated A/V systems for board rooms, conference rooms and instructional settings. A/V systems can consist of audio technologies such as microphones, loudspeakers, amplifiers and digital signal audio processors. Video technologies can include displays (projectors and video monitors), Blu-ray players, computer/device connections, video conferencing codecs and video switchers that route signals. Often times, system control panels (typically wall or podium-mounted) interface with the equipment and enable everything to work together.

It is very common for our customers to request, and even require, an A/V system that’s reliable, works without delays and is easy for the presenter/instructor to use. It is not uncommon for an ESCO engineer to spend over 40 hours on behind-the-scenes programming alone in order to create a simple, intuitive user experience in a typical, large instructional space. In many situations, making A/V easy for the end user takes planning, experience and time.

I was recently involved with a construction project consisting of various-sized instructional presentation rooms. Our client, a hospital, wanted to use audio and video systems to present digital content. Additionally, they wanted to create collaborative opportunities for participants to share and interact with their work from laptops and personal devices.

In many respects the designs were similar to other work we’ve done, so we were very comfortable developing a custom layout to accommodate the uniqueness of this client; however, there was one interesting challenge – the hospital’s data network. How could we provide a reliable, easy to use, responsive technology for collaboration that did not use or touch the network? There are several presentation products on the market today that allow participants to present and interact with their work on the room display without connecting a cable, uploading files or transferring their work to a USB drive. Using wireless technologies in this setting have improved immensely in recent years, particularly with bandwidth demands of HD video, so we had several good options to choose from – but what about the hospital data network that we needed to avoid? Security breaches are a constant concern, particularly for hospitals that must maintain HIPAA compliance. To avoid lengthy analysis of this equipment by the hospital IT, we were tasked with providing a standalone collaborative platform.

Here are the primary scenarios we looked at:

  1. Participant’s laptop connects with an HDMI cable to a transmitter box, which transmits content via wireless point-to-point to a receiver box at the display
  2. Participant’s device connects to a receiver box at the display using the device’s built-in Wi-Fi connection
  3. Participant’s laptop uses a USB transmitting dongle to connect to a receiver box at the display via a dedicated Wi-Fi connection

All scenarios have their merits, but for this situation option three was the only viable solution. Let me explain.  The first option requires an HDMI connection so it would only work with a laptop, not a personal device (tablet or phone). Furthermore, the transmitter requires a power outlet, which inherently limits where the participant can transmit from. Option two uses Wi-Fi so a laptop, tablet or phone would work – as long as the device didn’t also need connected to the internet via its internal Wi-Fi connection. Some wireless systems pass internet access through to the device, but the receiver box at the display must be hard wired to the network, which wasn’t an option.

We chose option three because it uses a Wi-Fi dongle that connects to the USB port on the participant’s laptop. This frees up the laptop’s internal Wi-Fi for internet access. In the case of tablets and phones, the internal Wi-Fi connects to the receiver. The device’s data connection provides internet access when needed.

This specific application scenario reiterates that the challenge of today, and going forward, is not finding technology that can perform a given function, but rather which technology is the best fit. The skill set required to accomplish this is exactly what ESCO brings in partnership with our clients.

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