'Digital' hospital showcases GE Healthcare technologies

'Digital' hospital showcases GE Healthcare technologies

By building one of the world's first all-digital cardiac care facilities, Saint Francis Heart Hospital hopes to provide patients with better care while helping doctors and other medical staff offer more effective treatments.

The technology at the new facility, provided by GE Healthcare, a unit of General Electric, allows doctors to access patient information -- including digital scans, lab results and prescription drug information -- from anywhere in the hospital, at home or off-site, using a wireless network.

The hospital, which opened its doors to patients in April, Monday announced that the IT systems have been fully installed and are operational using GE Healthcare's Advanced Clinical Information Systems. The US$55 million hospital broke ground last October and was built with IT systems in mind at every stage of construction, from the pharmacy and lab to its accounting systems.

"By using all this technology, we're giving doctors and clinicians their time back so they can have more human interaction" with their patients, said Robert Schad, an IT team leader at the hospital.

The hospital was built to be a state-of-the-art, paperless facility, where medical personnel have access to patient information on computers in each of the 52 patient rooms. By going paperless and putting technology closer to patients, the hospital expects to address several problems, including concerns that illegible handwriting on charts or prescription orders can lead to medical errors, as well as the need for more direct contact between patients and health care providers.

"We had an opportunity as a brand-new facility to partner with GE and face both of these concerns," said Bob Dolan, CEO of the hospital. It allows patient information to be available at the bedside, increasing the amount of time doctors can spend with their patients, and goes a long way to improve patient safety by removing the issue of illegible care orders, he said.

"Physicians have told us that they can make their rounds 30 percent faster, giving them more time with patients and less with the (hospital) procedures," Dolan said. "It is clearly a very powerful tool that helps us all be efficient."

The hospital's digital workflow is built around GE's Centricity Clinical Information System, which integrates patient information from every care area and every procedure into a comprehensive electronic medical record. Most systems run on Microsoft Windows 2000 or 2003, although some Linux boxes are also in use.

Brandon Savage, GE Healthcare's general manager for enterprise solutions for clinical information technologies, said this is the second hospital GE has equipped with its digital health care systems. The other facility is the Indiana Heart Hospital in Indianapolis.

Dr. Thomas Handler, a radiologist and analyst at Gartner said the health care industry has been trying to move to digital systems for years. But it has been hard to do because of costs and the complexity of disparate systems.

And while the two GE-equipped hospitals are state-of-the-art, he said, because they are heart hospitals, they have more money to do these kinds of projects and make them work. "This is a wonderful proof of concept," Handler said, "but it doesn't indicate anything until you can put it into a [traditional nonheart] hospital -- you know, one that's struggling.

"No one else has done that yet," he said.

One shortcoming with GE's systems is that it obtained much of its technology by acquiring other vendors and then created interfaces to allow systems work together, Handler said. And while that can work, such projects are more complex for CIOs because the systems are separate.

"From a CIO perspective, that's a fairly complicated system they've installed in that place, much more so than if they were integrated," Handler said.

"We believe that for the average hospital, this is just too complex," he said. "It's not a surprise to us that their two sites are heart hospitals. To me, the real proof is when they find a typical hospital and make it work there."

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