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World's first "all-digital hospital", a joint venture by Health South Corp. and Oracle.

From Diana J. Choyce
Apr 23 - 29, 2001

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% to 22%.

"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."