Health Care & Medical: Tech Innovation Keeps The Doctor In - InformationWeek

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Health Care & Medical: Tech Innovation Keeps The Doctor In

IT investments help ensure that health-care industry remains robust

"If I go to the doctor, he needs to know the difference between John Hummel and John C. Hummel," the CIO says. The master index will be patient-centric, not data-centric, Hummel adds, and it will play an important role in Sutter's efforts to replace paper files, hard-copy X-rays films, and other paper-based documents with electronic ones.

With digitized patient information comes the heightened need to keep data secure. Beyond Sutter's compliance with HIPAA-mandated privacy and security regulations, the company is vigilant about the security of its systems, Hummel says. Sutter has an internal security team of about a half-dozen "white-hat hackers" who regularly attempt to hack the company's own Web sites and systems to check for vulnerabilities and ensure that real-life hackers can't get in.

Over the past few years, Sutter has started to rebuild most of its California hospitals to meet the state's strict earthquake regulations. Sutter used the opportunity to install a Wi-Fi network that's being used for wireless bedside applications, including a bar-code drug system that lets nurses check medicines against patients' electronic medical records before drugs are administered. The bar-code system is part of a $50 million technology deployment that's scheduled for completion by 2006. The deployment also includes the rollout of electronic intensive-care units that let critical-care doctors remotely monitor a larger number of patients who otherwise wouldn't have access to that specialty care (see "Mission: Critical," May 19, p. 34). Sutter spent $10 million this past year on a new data center that supports its electronic ICUs.

Health-care providers will continue to emphasize improving clinical systems, patient care, and patient outcomes with the help of IT in the next 12 months. At Baptist Health System Inc., the IT budget for this fiscal year has increased significantly, says senior VP of information resources Charles Jones. But the increase is in marked contrast to deep cost-cutting of previous years. "This spending is catch-up," Jones says.

While about a quarter of Baptist's IT-capital spending is earmarked for projects to replace older systems, the balance is slated for new capital expenditures. Business technologies on the horizon include data-mining and clinical knowledge-management applications that analyze the outcomes of different treatments and ultimately help improve patient care. For instance, by analyzing hip-replacement surgeries, Baptist could detect patterns such as what complications send patients back to the hospital and what care reduced those problems. The analysis could also help Baptist determine which type of prostheses resulted in fewer negative outcomes, Jones says. In the bigger picture, this sort of information can help the provider with overall risk management and with detecting business patterns that give it an advantage over competitors, he says.

Baptist isn't the only health-care company counting on data mining to improve business and care analysis. CareGroup Healthcare System, which operates five Boston-area hospitals, is building data-mining systems and business-intelligence tools to create metrics for analyzing outcomes, says CareGroup senior VP of IS John Halamka. He notes that capital spending, much of it storage-related, is up 30% to $15 million, while spending on IT operations is flat at about $30 million annually. Over the past year, CareGroup replaced its entire computer network, after an overload brought systems down for two days last fall.

"Massachusetts requires that we store all medical records for 30 years, including images," Halamka says. In addition to storing CT and MRI scans and ultrasound and X-ray images, new storage will be used for CareGroup's data-mining, business-intelligence data marts, and centralized storage for mission-critical documents, E-mail messages, and applications.

At CareGroup, Web order-entry systems for prescriptions, lab tests, and supplies are replacing all handwritten orders. That's already been done at CareGroup's Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and the systems will be rolled out at CareGroup's other four hospitals during the next year.

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