Heart Hospital Embraces Digital Future - InformationWeek

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Heart Hospital Embraces Digital Future

St. Francis Heart Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., was built to be digital from the ground up.

While many existing hospitals across the country are attempting to transform from paper-burdened environments by computerizing their patient clinical information and automating processes such as physician order entry, St. Francis Heart Hospital has been paperless--as well as wireless and filmless--since the Tulsa, Okla., cardiac center admitted its first patient in April.

St. Francis Heart Hospital, which has 52 patient beds and plans to double that, was designed from the ground up to be "a completely digital environment," including "everything from admission to bedside processes," CEO Bob Dolan says.

That allows St. Francis patients, such as those having open-heart surgeries like the quadruple-bypass operation that former President Clinton had in a New York hospital last week, to stay in the same room and have the same nursing team from the time they're admitted until the time they leave.

The "universal" patient rooms allow intensive-care-unit equipment, such as ventilators and dialysis machines, to be rolled into patient rooms, rather than patients being moved from unit to unit as their conditions change.

"The major goal of this hospital is patient safety, and not changing a patient's nurse team every day helps," says Dr. Michael Spain, a St. Francis cardiologist and board member. That's in part because nurses get to know a patient's particular medical situation better when they care for that patient from admission to discharge, Spain says. And for nurses, he says, "they like to see a critically ill patient get better and go home."

Each patient room is equipped with a wall-mounted Dell PC with an 18-inch monitor, as well as patient-monitoring devices. There are also PCs outside patient rooms and at nursing stations. From any of these PCs, doctors and nurses can review patient electronic medical charts and gain immediate access to the latest available lab results, pharmacy information, and patient-monitoring data. Bedside bar-code systems let nurses double-check drugs with patient records before medicines are administered. This all contributes to boosting quality of care and improving patient safety, Dolan says.

There are about 275 PCs in the hospital and about 12 terabytes of storage for medical records and images. That storage capacity should last St. Francis about three to five years, says the hospital's IT team leader, Robert Schad.

The network environment, which includes both wired and secure wireless infrastructures, also can support wireless tablet PCs and all of the hospital's clinical applications, says Vishal Wanchoo, a VP of GE Healthcare, which was the prime medical and IT contractor for the hospital.

The GE monitoring equipment and other medical gear used at the hospital "automatically populates" patients' electronic medical records with their data. There are no manual processes involved, with nurses and other clinicians reading patient data or obtaining test or lab results, which also helps to improve accuracy and efficiency, Wanchoo says.

Dolan says the hospital project--including construction and all IT--"was on time and on budget," costing around $50 million and taking about nine months. That's considerably less money and time it takes for existing traditional hospitals to transform into wireless, paperless environments.

The electronic environment "fundamentally changes the relationship" physicians and nurses have with patients and their families, Spain says. "Instead of doing paperwork, I can spend more time interacting with patients," he says. The bedside PCs let doctors show patients "moving videos" of their recorded heart procedures, such as catheters or wires going into arteries. "The reaction from patients is 'Wow!'" Spain says. "There's a different level of understanding when a patient watches what was done to his or her own heart, not just any heart," he says.

Still, for nurses and doctors who have spent much of their careers in traditional hospitals, the change can be pretty dramatic. Dolan says the hospital had "superusers," or "team leaders," who were responsible for training St. Francis' medical staff and came from many different backgrounds. "We had a new building, new IT, new people," Dolan says. "It was like drinking water from a fire hose."

So far, St. Francis patients have given the hospital a 98% satisfaction rating, Dolan says. Retired minister the Rev. James Wallis, who in May underwent quadruple bypass surgery, says he was impressed by the hospital's "state-of-the-art facilities and friendly staff," and also the lack of papers. "There was no paperwork in my room, yet all the information the nurses and doctors needed was right there."

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