Four IT Themes to Plan For

Posted on June 16, 2010

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Information technology (IT) is always mentioned as a major headache for corporate healthcare leadership. Often it is because IT is such an unknown on many planning levels:  physical infrastructure, cost, future ability to adapt and value of upgrading versus waiting for latest application. And then how should a facility efficiently train and fold in new technologies into employees’ daily routines?

After discussing IT trends with two specialists, one in healthcare and one outside healthcare, and researching it myself, there appear to be four major developments that can be distinctly identified right now, around which administrators can plan, and about which design teams should familiarize themselves.

1)  Everything Wireless (almost). Depending on the facility, current IT infrastructure may be wired, wireless or both. At the moment, wired networks still hold a speed and security advantage for transmission of data. Hospitals may still want to house their own servers and want to control access, for which wired is better; however, much care is going bedside or ‘real time’. Food orders, charting, medications and eventually care decisions and record access will occur wirelessly.

Much like “snail mail” remains relevant, some specific internal networks may remain wired; however, guessing how spaces will be used and where employees will prefer to do their work makes planning internet jacks in walls futile. Flexibility will be essential.  Wireless access, with increased security and speed, will make data accessible anywhere on a healthcare campus, including outside.

2)  Transition to Clouds.  Cloud computing, which is defined as utilizing off-site (third party) servers to run programs or store data, will become more common. Actual software physically loaded on computers will change into programs downloaded or run off remote computers. As hospitals join the mandated electronic medical records (EMR) movement, and when the EMRs are standardized and the fed or states decide where the master database will live, it will surely need to be in a cloud (remotely located). In the short-term, hospitals will need to physically store their own EMRs at their facility.

3)  Data Translation / Standardization / Access.  If they have not already, hospitals will develop facility and system-wide standards smartly. As records converge, it will be imperative for everyone to use record, input and retrieval systems that are the same everywhere—specialty-, department-, facility- and system-wide. EMR adoption is a multiple-step process that will eventually confront this issue also. Until a dominant platform is adopted in EMRs, facilities will be on their own to develop what works best for them provided they meet the federal minimums for “meaningful use”; however, this will take a large, concerted effort to make it all work together.

4)  Remote Access to Hospital by Patients.  For many reasons, medical service will not always occur in person. Periodic monitoring (weight, blood tests, heart or breathing, vitals) of some patients will be done from home or anywhere not in a hospital as much as possible to cut down on office visits for routine check-ups. Also telemedicine, which allows virtual visits with a doctor or treatment from afar, will grow in use. The technologies that will make these services possible are not completely developed, and will require easy deployment of necessary equipment to the patient, or work with IT already in the typical household.

It is unknown how these items will affect the physical design of hospitals. In some cases, it appears it will save space and energy. In other cases, it may increase demand for it. Each facility will make important decisions to determine how, when, and to what extent each new technology will be implemented at their hospital. For the most part, decisions on adoption time tables will happen at the facility level. Still, the likelihood of a pseudo-Y2K issue in healthcare technology is a legitimate reality, and the EMRs may be the subject on the immediate horizon to challenge the collective healthcare IT status quo.

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Posted in: Healthcare IT