By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2005-05-04 Print this article Print

This "digital hospital" has likely paid for itself in less than two years. And it's radically cutting the time it takes to treat a heart attack.


A Race Against The Clock

As a paramedic steers your gurney into the Indiana Heart E.R., a nurse at a Compaq personal computer logs on to the Centricity program and enters your name and other personal details. Thump-skip. Thump-squeeze. Fight, fight, fight.

Within 15 seconds, your health history appears on screen, pulled from 18 terabytes of data stored on a network of IBM Shark storage servers.

In five clicks, cardiologist Venturini can study readings from the catheterization you underwent eight months ago, where blood pressure and oxygen levels in the heart were measured via a thin tube inserted into a vein. He can see, too, which medications were administered at which dosages and that you are allergic to latex. Within 3 minutes and 12 seconds of arrival, you are hooked to an electrocardiogram, or EKG, machine and fresh data on heart rhythms populates your file.

Outside the E.R., access to data is swift—from computers in patient rooms and in hallways, and on tablet devices that fit in the pockets of doctors' white coats. The accessibility saves time, which saves heart muscle, which saves lives.

The National Registry of Myocardial Infarction sets 90 minutes as the recommended maximum elapsed time between a heart-attack victim's admission to a hospital and undergoing angioplasty, the insertion of a tiny balloon into the affected artery to open it so blood can flow. At Indiana Heart, the average time from the front door to the procedure is 50 minutes. The hospital's 3.2 minutes to EKG beats the national recommended standard by nearly seven minutes.

So it's no surprise that Indiana Heart's patients get well faster. Nationally, the average length of hospital stay for a cardiac patient is five days; it's three at Indiana Heart.

The digital facility has also cut medication-selection and administration errors. At the cardiac unit of Community Health Network, 25 such errors were reported per month in 2002. In Indiana Heart's first year, the monthly average was seven.

Quick access to accurate, standardized patient data means no doctor or nurse has to choose among life-altering treatments without benefit of history, Venturini says. "I can make more focused, correct decisions," he points out.

The efficiencies also mean that the hospital runs with 25% fewer staff than a traditional cardiac facility of comparable size—330 compared with 440.

Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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