Rural hospitals are no strangers to doing more with less. In a tough economic climate, they often lean more heavily on efficient IT to provide better -- and cheaper -- healthcare.
Take Mason General Hospital in Shelton, Wash., which needed to upgrade its IT infrastructure and ensure that its electronic medical records complied with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. And it needed to do those things in a way that relieved the burden on its staff.
With the solutions it implemented, the hospital reduced cost of ownership for IT by 25 percent and reclaimed more than 18,000 hours in staff time -- time that could then be channeled back into emergency patient care.
“Technology makes patient care more efficient, making for better outcomes,” said Tom Hornburg, Mason General’s IT director.
The hospital turned to virtualization to fight server sprawl and conserve power and cooling resources. That allowed it to maintain its datacenter footprint and realize efficiencies, including eliminating planned downtime for maintenance and deploying virtual servers in just hours.
Increased performance improved data mining and reporting, which helped the hospital comply with Meaningful Use criteria. As Hornburg said, “More timely access to information directly impacts patient care, because we’re able to view trends and benchmarks and react faster.” And meeting HITECH deadlines means the hospital will receive the maximum reimbursement in federal stimulus funds.
Perhaps the biggest benefit came in Mason General’s critical point-of-care emergency department information system.
Emergency room users could swipe their ID badges to automatically log on to the system on any computer, and if they needed to log off, the same session would follow them to the next computer.
Hornburg estimated that the hospital’s secure single sign-on system saved an hour and a half every day for its 50 ER users -- more than 18,000 hours each year. That made healthcare providers’ jobs easier and allowed them to access important patient data quickly, improving care in a department where every second counts.
“Healthcare IT is becoming increasingly complex with growing volumes of data, hundreds, if not thousands, of disparate applications, and numerous standalone systems,” said David Zirl, vice president of healthcare and life sciences solutions sales at Dell.
Such infrastructure is difficult to manage, Zirl said, forcing hospitals like Mason General to apply resources toward maintenance rather than innovation.
“Additionally, caregivers and staff are not fully prepared for integrating technology into their daily routines,” Zirl said. “The lack of consideration for workflow creates additional complexity that hinders the people who are intimately involved in care delivery.”
But if hospitals make caregiver support a priority, they can find IT solutions that meet provider and patient needs.
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