Software maker Oracle and hospital operator HealthSouth Corp. saythey will build the world's first "digital hospital" in Birmingham, Ala. The 500,000 square-foot, 219-bed hospital would take advantage of Oracle's software to tie together all the systems of the hospital, from procurement to billing systems, to reduce paperwork and increase efficiency.
Everything will work together to eliminate a lot of redundant functions and processes, says Richard Scrushy, chairman and CEO of HealthSouth. The hospital will also feature networked monitoring equipment and diagnostic tools, as well as a wireless network that lets doctors update and access patient records through a portable computer. Scrushy says the system will reduce medical errors and make it easier for doctors to respond quickly to patient needs.
In a press conference announcing the partnership, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said the networked systems will help the hospital save money and improve service. "It's estimated that somewhere between 20% and 30% of all dollars that are spent in health care are spent in record keeping," he said, and if those processes are automated, the savings can be redeployed to improve the quality of the health care.
One hurdle that the project will have to clear is patient's concerns that by digitizing their medical records, "Big Brother" will know everything about them. But Scrushy says the network will actually allow for improved privacy. "Charts in a hospital are not at all safe today," he says. "There's no security." He says that in most hospitals, there's nothing stopping anyone who works there from looking at a patient's records, but files in the digital hospital will be protected and available only to the specific doctors who need them. "It's going to be more secure in the future than it has been in the past."