Take an expensive, critical service. Add technology challenges, a growing customer base, and a widening geographic area. Now, you're living in Andrew Blackmon's world.
Blackmon is director of infrastructure and technology services for Children's Hospital of Colorado, an affiliate of the medical school of the University of Colorado and a key healthcare provider for children in an 11-state region. Once upon a time, all this happened at a single campus of buildings in downtown Denver, but since 2007, things have been changing in ways that make service much better for patients and clinicians -- and much more challenging for IT.
When I met with Andrew Blackmon at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla., he was eager to talk about his experience building a network to connect more than 16 separate clinics and campuses into a single, collaborative organization focused on providing critically needed care to sick and injured children. He said:
The clinicians were complaining that they weren't getting the collaboration opportunities on the main campus. We put end points in every one of the network locations to cut down on travel time. Before that, they were used to driving from Colorado Springs to Denver to meetings, which meant a day of travel. Now, they can have a full conference call with media, save the travel time, and serve more people.
How important is the collaboration? Blackmon gave an example based on one of Children's better-known departments:
Children's is one of the top 10 hospitals in the cancer and blood area. Lots of samples are sent in from the field and they have a monthly meeting that's the 'Tumor Board' that goes through lots of rich media on what they've learned from cases and get a better outcome from future cases.
The video conferencing and collaboration network is also helping Children's fulfill its role as a teaching hospital. Blackmon talked about ways in which the long-distance collaboration tools expand the range over which information is shared:
Children's in the last year or two has launched Maternal Fetal Medicine, which is about kids that have some sort of disorder that would be life-threatening if they were born in a normal facility. [The doctors] either have the children born and be rushed into the NICU or they're doing intra-uterine intervention. A child with an airway obstruction was brought in, they had an anesthesiologist for both the child and the mom, opened mom, fixed the airway issue, and then the child was born. It was in NICU for 10 to 14 days and went home. The video allowed other clinicians to watch and learn from this.
Many CIOs might recoil from advanced collaboration and video conferencing capabilities because of the perceived expense, but Blackmon says that moving from the previous ISDN (over sonogram) to a more modern SIP-trunk architecture has provided significant cost savings for the entire system. The earlier lines cost over $17,000 per month for a system that was brittle in the case of natural or man-made disaster. The new trunks, because of the inherent fail-over nature of shared trunks, solve multiple problems at once. Blackmon explains:
I can now lose the whole main campus and the whole network will maintain its operation. The total cost of all this is $7,100 per month for a more robust design. Healthcare is all about lowering cost and that phone cost is straight out of the operating budget. I've returned money to the budget while making service more robust.
For Blackmon, the work he does at Children's Hospital of Colorado is about more than just professional pride. After we finished talking about unified communications and network operations, he told me of the services they had provided to his family before he took his current position. In a professional life concerned with large networks and big-data, Andrew Blackmon is most concerned about small patients and the everyday miracles that surround them.