Uptick In Care

Application integration helps Sutter Health take patient care up a notch.
The elaborate bar-coding system will require the rollout of 13,000 PCs, one at each bed, over the next three years. And because each of Sutter's hospitals is at least 50 years old, Hummel is Wi-Fi-enabling each building rather than wiring the PCs to the interface engine.

Hummel's IT group is also focused on improving patient care in intensive-care units and emergency rooms. Because budgets don't allow each hospital to have its own ICU doctor and nurse, Sutter is building a virtual E-ICU that will link a computer room staffed with a doctor, nurse, and clerk to all ICUs. Through real-time videoconferencing, the ICU staff will remotely monitor patient data and collaborate with on-site staff. The project has ramifications far beyond Sutter, Hummel says, since the company could extend it to any hospital in the world. Technology is even reaching out to doctors at home. Hummel is working to provide them with a Web portal from Park City Group that will enable them to download charts, receive lab results, and order prescription refills using handheld devices.

Last year, more than 1,000 Sutter physicians were online; by 2005, Hummel expects all 5,000 to have full Web access. The goal, of course, is to provide better service to customers. For example, a Sutter clinic in Palo Alto, Calif., has a patient base that's largely employees from companies such as HP and Cisco Systems that rue the productivity lost when employees fight traffic and sit in waiting rooms. Now, 15,000 of those patients go online to communicate with doctors, order refills, view their records, and get instructions. In Palo Alto, that service is a convenience, but Hummel notes that the true value of such services will be in rural communities, where access to doctors can be even more difficult.

Several other hospital networks have developed their own unique IT strategies and versions of projects like Sutter's electronic medical-record system and virtual ICUs. But widespread adoption is still far off. Only about 20% of physicians have any type of electronic medical records, Forrester's Brown says. And while the concepts are exciting, they're not nearly as spectacular as the visions of the future of health care.

Brown compares the state of health-care technology with the early days of customer-relationship management, when the focus was on coordinating key data about a single customer. Today, enhancements such as analytics are making CRM data useful and usable, so aggregate historical customer data can be used to determine how an individual customer will behave in the future, allowing the seller to tailor marketing and sales based on those assumptions. Health-care organizations, too, are working toward a single view of their customers via patient electronic records; collaboration among specialists, laboratories, and pharmacies; and patient connectivity. And that can eventually lead to even bigger things.

"Putting information at doctors' fingertips and adding tools like analytics gives us the ability to step back and view solid qualitative and quantitative data about a population and its health-care outcomes," Brown says. "That's exciting stuff." With CIOs like Hummel pushing IT to the forefront of their health-care organizations, that excitement is justified.

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