Teaching hospital graduates to integrated patient care

St. Michael’s Hospital is introducing technology not typically found in health-care facilities through a four-year agreement with IBM Canada Ltd.


teaching hospital, affiliated with the University of Toronto, embarked on an organization-wide technology refresh five years ago when John Wegener was introduced as inaugural vice-president of corporate resources and CIO.

“”The intent was basically to bring technology to this organization, which had been pretty much behind its peer hospitals . . . other teaching hospitals in Ontario,”” said Wegener.

The five-year plan to move the hospital towards an “”integrated patient care management system”” was achieved on a project by project basis, said Wegener, with each step needing budgetary approval.

The first two and a half years were spent rebuilding the hospital’s infrastructure to provide it with sufficient bandwidth and redundant systems. For example, St. Michael’s uses two different data centres fed by two different electrical grids.

Other enhancements included a new intranet, a rebuilt security infrastructure, single sign-on capability for clinical systems, and a move to a 75 per cent thin-client environment. “”That gives us enhanced security and better control over our systems,”” explained Wegener.

St. Michael’s began using IBM systems practically from the outset for the IT overhaul, which Wegener estimates as a $45-million build. A large of that was using IBM hardware to handle a Siemen’s Soarian application (a workflow engineering system to align processes across the organization).

Once IBM services became involved, a more formal deal was struck which resulted in the four-year partnership that was first announced late last month.

“”We’ve got a lot on the go with hospitals,”” said Barry Burk, general manager of health care for IBM Canada. “”St. Mike’s is unique, I think, in that they have a comprehensive blueprint for what they want to do in terms of information technology. They have a complete and full buy-in from the executive level, they have adequate budget to do it, and they really are in a position to take their vision to a reality.””

Now that St. Michael’s has established a comfort level with IBM, new technologies are being brought in, like blade servers and a storage area network (SAN) volume controller.

“”That technology is relatively new and certainly new in health care,”” said Wegener. “”That provides us with the ability to move data around instead of just on the SAN. That technology allows for better control over the storage of data.””

St. Michael’s latest approach to technology is a “”major trial component”” to the IBM deal with a simple results-based formula: “”We’ll probably keep them if they work,”” said Wegener.

St. Michael’s will also work with IBM to make the best use of technology in smaller areas like nurses’ stations and treatment rooms. The hospital is setting up a training centre to allow employees to become familiar with the technology.

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