Filmless Ontario hospitals cut wait times by hours

TORONTO — Until recently, patients at the London Health Sciences Centre had to wait about four hours for the results of their urology X-rays – just enough time for stress levels to go through the roof.

Now, they’re in

and out within an hour or so, says Dianne Beattie, CIO of the LHSC and St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont., thanks to the deployment of the Cisco medical-grade network that hosts the centre’s e-radiology system.

“Now films are taken and before the patient gets down the hall the physician is looking at it,” she said at a Cisco event Thursday. “For the most part people are leaving the hospital within 45 minutes to an hour. Before it was 8 a.m. to noon. You could just see the tension move out of the system; it has had a huge impact there.”

LHSC, one of Canada’s biggest teaching hospitals, has three main campuses and approximately 8,000 doctors and staff attending to some 600,000 patients a year. SJHC, also a major teaching facility, has more than 5,500 staff, 400,000 outpatient visits per year and 15,000 admissions.

The two now have a new data centre converted entirely to Cisco wireless and IP-based communications. All 17,000-plus workstations and phones are connected to the IP network. Besides the filmless radiology, the hospital is working on two new applications, including a 911 app that will pinpoint the location of a caller on the operator’s screen, and an integrated nurse call application that will deliver patient information to a handheld device. The hospital’s warehouse is also in the process of becoming wireless.

According to Beattie, SJHC has been fully filmless since June 2004. LHSC’s three main campuses are in the final phases of becoming filmless and the region’s community hospitals are in the planning phases but already have the required equipment. Plans are to expand to 41 more community and rural hospitals in southwestern Ontario.

As well as e-enabling radiology, the London hospitals are also rolling out electronic patient records.

Canada Health Infoway, the federal body in charge of accelerating the adoption of electronic health records across the country, contributed just under $17 million to the entire project while the Ontario Ministry of Health put in $20 million.

“As we get all the community hospitals and London teaching hospitals (on board), by next year this time we should be filmless and paperless,” Beattie said.

Brantz Myers, Cisco’s director of enterprise marketing, said Cisco is not announcing any new products with its medical grade network, merely a framework for network design and best practices.

What makes it medical grade is that it is extremely reliable, secure, resilient and responsive, he said. Those characteristics are paramount in health care today, especially in situations such as telemedicine, he said, citing the example of the telerobotic surgery performed over Bell and Cisco’s network last year.

“We’re not introducing new products that have the seal of medical-grade network,” he said. But, he added, “That may come down the road.”

To help health-care facilities figure out where to start, Cisco has developed a medical grade network assessment tool.

“It takes customers through potential questions, looks at where they are and where they need to be, and it ends up producing a nice scoring model, so you can see where you are with respect to your industry peers,” Myers said.

Cisco’s vision of the future of health care, he said, is one that revolves around the patient.

“Traditionally, the hospital has been at the centre of the equation,” he said. “We’ve made patients go to hospitals, and we’ve brought resources to hospitals, but if we invert it, we make the patient the centre.”

For example, he said, Cisco is participating in a pilot project with palliative care patients to help them remain at home by videoconferencing with their care team, rather than having to live their last days in a hospital setting.

Dr. Jeff Rideout, vice-president of Cisco’s Internet business solutions group and corporate medical director, said Cisco is part of an eight-company consortium responding to the U.S. call for a national health information network.

Rideout said as countries around the world continue to struggle with the rising costs of health care, they will need to boost productivity. That boost can come from increased IT investments, he said, particularly in health care.

“There’s nearly a one to one correlation between IT investment and productivity,” said Rideout. “There is vast under-investment in IT in health care relative to other industries . . . and if you think about the nature of information in health care, it really should emulate more banking services, frankly.”


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