A Better, Safer Patient Experience with Cisco DNA Spaces


The University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht) is one of seven academic hospitals in the Netherlands, with around 12,000 employees and 3,000 students in the academic hospital. When the pandemic started in the Netherlands in March 2020, we quickly realized we would need to change our typical operations to accommodate physical distancing protocols. As the CIO, I’ve worked to modernize our organization for years, and this was one project that took us further along the path to digitization.

In slower areas of the hospital, physical distancing wasn’t an issue. But the pathway from the parking lot to the entrance of the hospital to the ambulatory services area connects multiple high-traffic areas. It’s difficult to facilitate physical distancing in such a busy area, so we had to do our consultations differently. We needed to increase our capacity for phone and online consults, and we worked with Conscia, our local implementation partner, and Cisco, our long-term technology partner, to find a solution. We decided to set up Webex services for our online appointments. 

During the first month of the pandemic, we moved more than half of our ambulatory services to phone and online consults, resulting in nearly 2,000 video patient consultations a month by February 2021.  Telephone consults also increased by 30%.

But people still needed to come to the hospital, and for those people, a packed waiting room is simply not an acceptable transmission risk. Halving capacity wouldn’t be enough; we would need to operate around 20–30% of our pre-pandemic capacity in our 40 unstaffed waiting rooms throughout the hospital. We desperately needed a way to measure the number of people in a room and automatically detect when people get too close together. By doing this, we could ensure the safety of both patients and staff. 

A Past Project Led to a Present-Day Solution

When we had to figure out a way to manage people within our waiting rooms, I immediately thought of our new Cisco Wi-Fi network. After I joined UMC Utrecht, we underwent a full Wi-Fi upgrade with Cisco and Conscia. Until three years ago, surprisingly, Wi-Fi was not even considered a critical service. Now, we’re completely dependent on that Wi-Fi. It seems unbelievable that it was ever not considered essential. I assumed there was a way to use it to pinpoint and measure the number of mobile devices that enter the hospital, and with that information, we could adjust our processes. Cisco confirmed that this was indeed possible, and introduced us to their solution to leverage those Wi-Fi insights, Cisco DNA Spaces.

In an environment where everyone is on high alert, a green dashboard is a reassuring visual message.

What we needed wasn’t just to know what devices are on the network; we required dashboards to monitor the situation at a glance. Cisco DNA Spaces would give us that view. It would also send our facilities management team automatic alerts via text message when there was an exception to our parameters. A security guard gets a text message when people are too close together, so they can then address the situation.

As important as it is for us to know when things are wrong, our favorite feature of Cisco DNA Spaces are the green indicators on the dashboard that make it obvious when the situation is just as we want it. In an environment where everyone is on high alert, a green dashboard is a reassuring visual message.

Optimising Our Cisco DNA Spaces Implementation with Cisco Country Digital Acceleration Program (DVN)

We took a phased approach to implementation.  Conscia again led the way, and Cisco delivered expertise regarding the more sophisticated product features. 

The first month after we implemented Cisco DNA Spaces, we only collected data. Some people were impatient to get going, but we needed to train the system to differentiate data points. If I walk into the hospital with my mobile, laptop, and iPad, that’s three devices. Training the system to see that I’m still just one person takes time, but within a month we were ready to act on the information. It turned out to be a relatively easy deployment, especially given the circumstances.

Perhaps the most influential player in our Cisco DNA Spaces deployment was Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration program (known as DVN locally). Hendrik Blokhuis, who is the Head of the DVN program in the Netherlands, and Sander ten Hoedt, who leads the Workplace Transformation team as part of the DVN program in the Netherlands, spent a lot of time and effort driving the pilot and supporting UMC Utrecht throughout implementation. They also worked to lower the initial investment required on our end. That is particularly important to UCM Utrecht as we are publicly funded, so we have to be very wise with how we spend our money.  Together, we identified that we only required the solution to be implemented in a very specific area where we needed to ensure everyone followed proper distancing protocols. In addition, the DVN team secured a multi-month free trial to help us get a proof of value.

@Cisco DNA Spaces has delivered exactly what it promised: compliance with physical distancing rules that help keep patients and healthcare professionals safe.

Cisco DNA Spaces has delivered exactly what it promised: compliance with physical distancing rules that help keep patients and healthcare professionals safe. It has been great to have the peace of mind, knowing that this at least is under control as we faced subsequent waves of the pandemic. Without DVN, I don’t think we could have implemented DNA Spaces at all. The platform—and the DVN partnership—was a lifesaver for us.

Of course, privacy is always a paramount concern. We inform patients as they enter the hospital that we anonymously monitor the movement of devices. People have generally been supportive, even praising this as a proportional response in light of the situation. Right now, people elect to concede a little bit of privacy for a magnificent service. 

UMC Utrecht’s Race to Digitization

This project was an enormous feat, especially given where we were a few years ago. I came to UMC Utrecht after 20 years in the financial industry. One of UMC Utrecht’s requirements for a new CIO was to have IT knowledge from a sector more digitally advanced than healthcare. I realized I could apply everything I’d learned in finance to help patients. I immediately started to make the organization more agile, digitizing as much as possible and making it easier for patients to access the hospital’s services. 

One example is the secure online portal we developed for patients to complete their intake questionnaire before coming to the hospital. Why does this matter? It means that doctors are now better prepared for appointments and spend less time on administrative work, resulting in a qualitatively better experience and an improved doctor-patient relationship.

Another idea is the airport check-in experience. I’ve had several discussions with Cisco and Conscia about the resemblances between our hospital and an airport. I met recently with the head of Schiphol Airport, who said they are now looking at a model where, if the passenger agrees, they can track the passenger’s phone after they check in from home, eliminating the need for a boarding pass. What if we could present a similar opt-in option for patients? Some hospitals in the Netherlands require you to show ID at a big machine upon entering, which isn’t very friendly. Wouldn’t it be nicer if, when you arrived at the hospital, you received a text message saying, “The doctor is ready to see you now”? The technology behind Cisco DNA Spaces can help get us there.

Consica, Cisco, and the Cisco DVN program have helped UMC Utrecht modernize and digitize our user experience and operations. This partnership has also demonstrated how Cisco can help the public sector innovate and move forward, even in times of desperate need. We’ve started to realize the future of the user experience, and how to harness the possibilities here at UMC Utrecht for our patients.