Innovation: A Healthy Tech Future

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Technology is driving profound changes in the health care arena. Savvy IT executives recognize that the stakes are greater than ever before, and the right systems can drive enormous gains.

Niall Pariag has seen the future of medicine, and it’s as much about wireless computing, business intelligence (BI) and virtualization as it is about X-rays and MRIs. The senior network administrator at Riverside Health Care Systems, a 400-bed community hospital network in New York state, is well aware that performance and cost controls are inextricably tied to an IT infrastructure.

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“It’s important to provide the level of availability, resilience, scale, performance and security required in today’s world,” Pariag explains. “It’s also important to have the flexibility to address future needs.”

At Riverside Health Care, this line of thinking has resulted in a robust IT infrastructure that, among other things, supports bedside registration, drug administration and verification, and mobile access to data, along with guest access.

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And Riverside isn’t alone. Health care providers are turning to a spate of solutions and technologies to boost performance and trim costs. What’s more, as U.S. health officials push for greater adoption of electronic medical records (EMR) and a variety of reforms, IT is paving the way for other gains.

“From a technology perspective, we are seeing a convergence of back-office, front-office and operational systems,” notes Daniel Garrett, partner and leader of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Care IT practice.

For business and IT leaders, the current environment translates into both opportunities and challenges. There’s enormous potential to improve medical care and weed out inefficiencies. However, getting a handle on a tangle of initiatives—including EMRs, virtualization, mobility, analytics, telemedicine, home health and compliance issues—is nothing short of daunting.

“There’s a need to focus on end-to-end business integration,” points out Dadong Wan, innovation lead for Accenture’s Technology Labs.

A Healthy Outlook

The face of health care is changing rapidly. An aging population, growing pressure to reform the industry and escalating medical costs are heaping enormous pressure on health care providers. At the same time, the need for technology—for health care professionals, organizations and consumers—is growing.

“The cost of health care is rising faster than the GDP [gross domestic product],” states Eric Brown, research director at Forrester Research, “and everyone recognizes that something must be done.”

Information technology is at the nexus of this changing landscape, and IT departments are on the front lines of the revolution. At Riverside Health Care, for example, a robust network and a wireless infrastructure have paid dividends. The provider has introduced bedside registration and order entry, nursing bedside documentation systems and bedside drug administration via tablet devices.

Nurses and health care professionals carry handheld units, including iPod touches and iPhones. And Pariag soon plans to introduce RFID patient tagging.

An Aerohive controllerless wireless system provides a secure network with robust provisioning, configuration and policy management capabilities. It also manages a separate guest network. If an access point fails or a network problem occurs, there’s no single point of failure because configuration and policy data reside at each access point.

The result, Pariag says, is a “far more efficient system for managing work and patients. People and equipment are connected throughout and across facilities.”

Getting physicians and other health care professionals the information they need is also a priority at Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Ind. The 247-bed facility, which provides care for individuals in five counties in southwest Indiana, has made patient records and other information available to doctors from inside the hospital, as well as from remote offices and from home, according to CIO Charles Christian. “Physicians are able to pull up medical records and images before they come into the hospital to start a procedure,” he says.

At the center of Good Samaritan’s IT initiative is a Web portal with links to more than half a dozen major applications. Physicians and nurses can use tablet PCs and smartphones to access data over a wireless network. An Imprivata authentication system tied into Microsoft Active Directory provides single sign-on functionality.

“Physicians can review charts, listen to dictations, view prescriptions and react to problems—including chart deficiencies—faster and better than ever before,” Christian says. “Through a combination of technology and changes in workflow, we have been able to take a huge step forward.”

To be sure, smartphones, mobility and wireless technology are rippling through the industry and changing things in a profound way. According to mHealth Initiative, more than a thousand medical apps now exist for the iPhone, and many doctors are turning to these devices to manage their practice more effectively.

Hospitals are also using bedside touch-screen devices that allow patients to communicate with doctors and nurses, watch TV, browse the Internet, and e-mail family and friends. Many are also turning to remote monitoring for heart and diabetes patients.

This article was originally published on 2010-04-08
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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