Big Communications for Small Patients

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 3/27/2013 | 23 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
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.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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Susan Nunziata   Big Communications for Small Patients   4/9/2013 3:48:41 PM
Re: Human Life
@SaneIT: You're right, all depends on the audience. I'm sure my E2 colleagues wouldn't mind a glimpse of my pets during our calls. Our managing director, on the other hand...

SaneIT   Big Communications for Small Patients   4/9/2013 7:26:20 AM
Re: Human Life
I can see that being very distracting and casting a poor image.  I guess it didn't bother me because I had been working or at least talking to most of these people for years before finding out that they work out of a home office via a video conference.  I knew that the setup was slowing them down.  If it were my first ever video conference with someone I think I'd keep the dogs and cats out too.
Susan Nunziata   Big Communications for Small Patients   4/8/2013 8:16:50 PM
Re: Human Life
@SaneIT: Ha! good for you. Not everyone would agree, I fear. Though you're right that what you wear isn't as important as how you get the work done. 

Being a dog AND cat owner, I have to lock them out of the room when I'm doing a video conference. Guaranteed one of the dogs will bark or one of the cats will decide to skip across the keyboard just as I'm in the middle of something important. 

SaneIT   Big Communications for Small Patients   4/1/2013 7:56:15 AM
Re: Human Life
I've had meetings with technical reps from other companies who looked like they just woke up.  They didn't even bother with the suit jacket or the dress shirt.   I've also been on one where the tech had his dog sitting in his lap.  I don't mind, as long as the work is getting done how you're dressed at home isn't going to bother me.
batye   Big Communications for Small Patients   4/1/2013 2:33:17 AM
Re: Human Life
Susan... same here... I put tie and dress short... but I'm wearing sweat pants :)...
Sara Peters   Big Communications for Small Patients   3/31/2013 6:46:01 PM
Re: tradition issues
@Umair  EXCELLENT advice. I think I've been guilty of making that mistake myself before.  "don't let your excitement overcome the reality. For some type of projects our emotions and excitement make us think what we want to think rather than the true unbiased picture and realistic assumptions. "
Umair Ahmed   Big Communications for Small Patients   3/31/2013 2:42:01 PM
Re: tradition issues
@ Sara: These are great suggestions. One I would like to add is to don't let your excitement overcome the reality. For some type of projects our emotions and excitement make us think what we want to think rather than the true unbiased picture and realistic assumptions. 
Sara Peters   Big Communications for Small Patients   3/31/2013 1:08:20 PM
Re: tradition issues
@Umair  "those who dare sometimes produce excellent results as the story here." That's so true, but taking risks is scary. If you get buy-in and make the time/money investment in a project that turns out to be a failure, there will be consequences. It's certainly important to a) be working in a company that isn't too risk-averse, and b) do everything you can to make the project a success. Certainly providing all users with adequate training -- so that they can see the benefits of a new technology and learn how to use it without too much trouble -- is one way to succeed. Any other recommendations?
Susan Nunziata   Big Communications for Small Patients   3/29/2013 8:21:20 PM
Re: Human Life
@SaneIT: that is cool, and quite unusual. I'm all for it, though as a work-from-home person I confess that when I have to do video collaboration, I might very well be wearing sweatpants along with my nice suit jacket and dress shirt. :)
Umair Ahmed   Big Communications for Small Patients   3/29/2013 6:19:24 PM
Re: tradition issues
"it's always been done this way." issues.

@ Kstaron: You are right, people resistance to change is a big problem in the way of invention and implementation of alternative systems and technologies. But those who dare sometimes produce excellent results as the story here.
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