The next time you are unfortunate enough to have to stay in a
hospital, you may be in for a big surprise. Well maybe not the next time, but if
Health South Corp. and Oracle have their way, it will be in the near future.
HealthSouth Corp, an outpatient surgery and rehabilitation chain, is partnering
with software giant Oracle Corp. to build the world's first "all-digital
hospital". Technology features will include beds with display screens that
have connections to the internet. Also electronic medical records storage,
digital imaging and a wireless communications network. The network will allow
doctors and caregivers access to patient files from anywhere in the world.
"I think what you'll see come out of this hospital is the elimination of
medical errors,'' said Richard M. Scrushy, chairman and CEO of Birmingham,
Alabama-based HealthSouth. ''What we're talking about is resolution through
innovation.'' Health South will spend about $125 million to build and equip the
hospital. They are renovating a 100 year old facility in Birmingham, Alabama,
and expect it to be done in 2003. Their hope is that this project will show how
technology can lower costs and improve patient care. They have already chosen 10
other sites on which to build the same model.
Oracle will provide the technology and the software for this
joint venture. Other manufacturers will supply hospital beds, surgical
equipment, laboratory equipment and pharmacy systems, and will work with
HealthSouth on the project to ensure their technology is compatible with the
Oracle software. These companies will include optics firm Carl Zeiss; diagnostic
firm Dade Behring; device makers Datascope and Smith and Nephew; General
Electric Medical Systems; healthcare products firm Hill-Rom; Pyxis, a maker of
medication dispensing systems; infection control firm Steris; and guided imagery
firm Visualization Technol.Oracle, Scrushy added "is going to be in a great
position to market its healthcare system to providers around the country,'' he
added. Scrushy said the profit margins at this type of hospital will be 5% to
10% higher than the profit margins at a traditional hospital, which could be 18%
"What we're doing now is making a reality out of
something that many people have talked about, but no one has attempted,"
said HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. "I'm envious of anyone who will work
in this new facility," said Sahid Samir, a resident intern at New York's
Bellevue hospital. "Bellevue is an excellent hospital, but I think that a
first-rate communications system would really enhance our ability to do our
work. It just takes too long to get the data we need sometimes." Many
doctors and other healthcare professionals feel they are working in one of the
last pre-digital industries, Samir said. But while they welcome advances in
medical science, some are in no rush to adopt high-tech ways of handling medical
records and other sensitive information. Health care analyst Peter Emch of
Credit Suisse First Boston said digital record-keeping should speed up doctors'
rounds by making it easier for them to access patient documents. "Certainly
the hospital industry could use modernization," Emch said. But the biggest
barrier to high-tech healthcare is doctors' concerns about the security of
computer systems. "With all of the stories we hear about how this website
and that government computer system was hacked into, how can I feel good about
putting my patients' medical records online?" said Henry Vitelle, a
Manhattan obstetrician and avid computer user. "When computer systems are
completely safe, then I will feel safe about using them for critical data,"
he added. "I don't feel comfortable about having records somewhere that
they could be tampered with by some joyriding hacker with no sense of the havoc
he could cause." Vitelle also said he discussed the dangers of wireless
transmission with other doctors and hospital administrators at a recent medical
conference in New Orleans. He said he was troubled at the news of HealthSouth's
planned wireless network, since recent reports have indicated that wireless
networks aren't completely secure.
"Despite the belief that physicians are techno-phobes,
their personal use of the Internet has already reached critical mass," said
Thaddeus Grimes-Gruczka, vice president of Cyber Dialogue's Health Practice.
"Vital factors essential for making the jump from personal usage to
clinical use include integrating technology into workflow at the point of care,
addressing privacy and security concerns, and demonstrating how online
technologies will help physicians practice medicine more efficiently and
effectively," he said. And that would appear to be what HealthSouth is
trying to do. "Our automated hospital isn't just about technology; it's
about using the best technology available to provide the best medical care to
patients. People deserve the highest level of care we can provide," Scrushy
said. Swaid N. Swaid, a neurosurgeon who is working as a consultant to
HealthSouth, said the e-hospital should provide safer, more efficient care.
"To marry technology with medicine is exciting," he said. "I
think it's going to be a tremendous way to provide patient care that is superior
to anything we have seen."