NOVI, Mich. — Healthcare and wireless technology are colliding more than ever today and the points of convergence are being driven in large part by the massive adoption of electronic health records. Here at Trinity Health’s headquarters, VP and CIO Jim Elert is tasked with bringing 47 hospitals “from Fresno, Calif. to Silver Spring, Md.” up on the health system’s private network.
“There’s a big demand in healthcare IT right now. It’s a really fast growing field. We have quite a few open positions here. We’re always recruiting. It’s a growing field because of electronic health records. Every hospital in the country is trying to implement electronic health records,” Elert told RCR Wireless News. “In fact, that’s where wireless really comes into play because most of the clinicians that use the systems are mobile. You don’t find too many people working behind a desk in a hospital. And now they access the electronic health record for everything. Somebody opens our electronic health record 300,000 times a day in our hospitals. It’s very actively used.”
Trinity Health’s network currently comprises 8,000 access points, 55,000 computers and a whole array of biomedical telemetry devices, Elert said.
“All these devices are collecting information and wirelessly transmitting it to the electronic health record,” he said. “I would say about 30% of our devices now are wireless and it wouldn’t surprise me if we pass 50% in a year or two.”
In the last 18 months, Trinity Health has grown from an inventory of only about 10% wireless devices.
“It’s really growing that fast. And I think a large part of that has to do with the fact Trinity Health is implementing physician order entries,” he said. “These biomedical devices are all becoming wireless. With the introduction of the electronic health records, those devices are proliferating.”
Some of the devices on Trinity Health’s network include point of care systems like handheld barcode scanners and wireless X-ray machines. “A lot of clinicians are bringing their iPads and their smartphones and wanting to hook up to the computer systems to look at results, check orders and that kind of thing,” Elert added.
About 30% of Trinity Health’s capital budget is earmarked for infrastructure, he said, adding that a “greater and greater percentage of what we spend is on wireless technologies, rather than wired technologies.”
When each new facility is brought completely onto a new network, Elert and his team spend up to 18 months preparing the hospital for the changeover. They’ve done that 29 times now across the system.
“At Trinity, we really use the most reliable wireless networks and the most redundant we can find because there’s so much riding on that network now. This is real patient information that people are using for care so it’s really important that those networks don’t go down. Really we’ve done more at Trinity than most organizations have done to be redundant. We have a complete backup data center so that we can switch everybody over in the case that there’s a problem because we just can’t afford to have that large a network go down for any length of time.”
Throughout the hospital network, staff and physicians have learned some pros and cons of mobile technology in healthcare. “I think that we have learned a lot about how to use wireless devices in the environment. The patient-physician relationship is pretty sacred and pretty personal and you want to preserve that relationship but not have your nose in a laptop when you’re having an interaction with a patient. Over time I think we’re learning how to do this better and better,” Elert said.