Tech Blog

2-Way Radio Interoperability for COVID-19 Applications


While there are many different settings where people are working to reduce the impact of COVID-19, in nearly all of them two-way radios are being used for communications of some kind. In some instances, the communications needs of the team could be better addressed by full-duplex intercom systems. In other situations, an intercom can be integrated into the existing two-way radio system to enhance workflows by providing the infrastructure to optimize communication needs.

Many hospitals, medical campuses, emergency operations settings, and even some testing and research institutions use two-way radio systems as a primary communication system, alongside telephones and in some cases nurse call systems. Radios provide a low-cost, rugged, wireless link to connect users and can be a great foundational element to a communications system where a lot of movement is anticipated in an environment which can be hard on electronics. However, intercom functions differently than radio systems in that it provides full-duplex communications versus half-duplex; in simple terms, this is the difference between being able to talk AND listen at the same time versus being able to only talk OR listen at any given time. You can read more about the workflow differences here. In some cases, especially with patient-doctor communication or life-safety concerns, having a full-duplex channel can make a significant difference in outcome.

Enhancements to two-way radio workflows can be achieved through integration into an existing communication platform that has already interfaced telephony, paging and voice recording into the solution. In the resulting solution, the intercom ties in a variety of communication equipment that can be seamlessly accessed from a single touch point such as an operator panel or wireless beltpack. This abstracts the complexity of the transport technologies so that operators can now focus on what they need to do rather than how they need to communicate.

Intercom also offers more selectivity in terms of allowing point-to-point conversations, simultaneous access to multiple talk groups, and/or latching on to a talk so that you can have full-duplex communication but still receive incoming audio from other users and have your hands free at the same time. For example, a doctor may need to communicate confidential patient information to a hospital administrator but also needs to be part of a larger group communication on status of available beds in the ICU ward. And, depending on workflow, that larger group can include people on two-way radios as well as on the intercom if the two systems are linked.

For users on the frontline, having a visual, physical interface (often times a microphone and speaker combination on a piece of hardware) can be a significant advantage, especially for people at a fixed location like a nurse call desk or an emergency operation center – or even a 911 call center. The intuitive visual interface allows a user to quickly and instinctively choose different endpoints, different groups, and even to be able to spontaneously link people together for ad hoc communication situations. With social distancing protocols in place at many hospitals, nurses’ stations are now more spread apart, resulting in greater need for communications systems.

In contrast to an extended intercom and two-way radio combined system, a wireless intercom serving instead of a two-way radio can allow for some critical workflow enhancements, not least of which is a latched-on talk path allows for hands-free operation which can be a real advantage in environments where PPE is required and where someone needs to be in communication with the rest of their team but does not have the ability to reach down and touch a talk button on a radio.

Ultimately, two-way radios are an important element of many communications systems found within the ecosystem of various applications addressing COVID-19. However, as our response to this pandemic grows more sophisticated, so too does the necessity to examine where we can make improvements on existing systems. The integration of existing two-way radios into a full-duplex intercom solution shows great promise to improve outcomes with enhanced usability and improved workflows.

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