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Doctors in one hospital have been spotted talking into their lapels under a scheme to improve communications using the latest technology.

Staff at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust have begun to talk to each other through voice activated badges as an alternative to pagers or mobile phones.

The trust has become the first in the UK to adopt the technology, which allows staff in different locations to talk over a wireless network.

The badges are hands free devices, about the size of an iPod nano, and can be pinned to a uniform or worn around the neck. Users can make instant connections with anyone in the hospital simply by speaking their name or department into the device.

According to a spokesperson for Royal Cornwall, radiology staff and the hospital porters have been using the devices for a month. The trust, which has over 500 wireless access points, hopes to start rolling the devices out to all staff by April 2006.

"We've only really been experimenting with it so far," the spokesperson told Government Computing News on February 22, 2006. "We hope that it will save time for staff and also it will help increase staff safety because they can use it to communicate if they're in a difficult or threatening situation."

So far no other trusts in the UK are using the technology, but the devices are used in some US hospitals.

Staff can turn off the devices, supplied by BT and communications supplier Vocera, if they don't want to receive calls and they are unlikely to be used in the operating theatre. The system provides an alternative to pagers, which are often found to be too slow and disruptive, and mobile phones, which cannot be used in hospitals.

Royal Cornwall is also linking the devices to its workflow management system in order to send porters details of their next job wherever they are in the hospital.

Simon Goodwin, director of IT for the Cornwall NHS Community, said: "Instant secure and reliable communications is vital in a hospital setting. The new system is simple to use and will allow us to respond more quickly to our patients' needs."

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This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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