IT offers a cure for the global healthcare industry
Oct 13, 2005
Executives Jeffrey Rideout and Pierre-Paul Allard discuss the Cisco vision for 'connected health'
The global healthcare industry is ailing. Fewer people each year can afford medical insurance, and care for those who can still afford it is decreasing in quality. The industry's crisis also affects the overall global economy.
Information technology (IT) can provide an effective platform for addressing the many serious challenges this industry faces. Cisco Systems is helping accelerate the adoption of healthcare technology, and its 'connected health' vision offers new benefits in healthcare.
News@Cisco recently asked two Cisco executives - Jeffrey Rideout, MD, vice president, Internet Business Solutions Group-Healthcare and Corporate Medical Director; and Pierre-Paul Allard, vice president, Worldwide Enterprise Marketing, Central Marketing Organization - to describe what IT in general - and Cisco products and services in particular - can offer to address declining healthcare quality.
What are the key issues facing the healthcare industry today?
Jeffrey Rideout: The primary concerns are around quality, safety, accessibility and cost.
U.S. healthcare can be the best in the world, yet at the same time a recent study by the Institute of Medicine suggests that more than 100,000 preventable deaths occur each year. In terms of accessibility, 46 million people in this country are uninsured and 16 million are underinsured. Medical illness is the second leading cause of personal bankruptcy, and 80 percent of those who declared bankruptcy had medical insurance when they got sick.
The United States, in particular, spends nearly 16 percent of its gross domestic product on healthcare - up to 30 percent of which is waste, from problems like redundant testing, unnecessary hospital admissions, medical errors and manually handled administrative work.
All this spills over into other sectors of the economy, as the rising cost of medical care creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. companies. For example, Ford and GM recently laid off 25,000 workers, citing rising healthcare costs as the primary reason.
How can technology help?
Jeffrey Rideout: IT can help physicians provide the right care at the right time in the right setting. The next revolution in this field is not about medicine; it's about using information to drive patient-centric, safe and efficient care. It's about 'connected health.'
There are a number of health information technologies that can help. Some - such as supply chain management technologies or online learning capabilities - are used in many industries. Others are more specific to a clinical setting, such as paperless patient records and applications that allow physicians to read x-rays and other records from home. Simply automating paper processes has tremendous potential, because more than 90 billion paper transactions occur each year in this industry.
What kinds of technologies and services does Cisco offer?
Pierre-Paul Allard: Cisco partners with other companies to deliver applications - such as electronic health records - that can improve the quality and safety of healthcare. And it provides the network infrastructure for a medical-grade network - a technology architecture that supports these applications.
The Clinical Connection Suite, the newest Cisco offering, has four components:
-- Location-based services, allows hospital staff to track mobile equipment and other key assets using Cisco's wireless technology;
-- Nurse Call uses wireless technologies to let patients inform their nurses directly when they need attention or to allow clinicians to engage in direct communications with their mobile colleagues;
-- Patient Monitoring is for monitoring patients remotely and quickly receiving relevant patient information on a mobile device; and
-- Collaborative care uses Cisco's infrastructure and conferencing technologies to dynamically bring together the right people and patient information to improve time to treatment.
Why is asset location so important in a clinical setting?
Pierre-Paul Allard: With RFID-enabled Wi-Fi tags placed on hospital equipment, staff can instantly locate something as simple as a wheelchair or as important as an IV machine. The inability to find hospital equipment quickly has real impact on both patient care and cost efficiencies.
The average nurse spends 30% of their typical 12-hour shift just walking. Find equipment faster, and some of that time goes back to real patient care. Misplacing high-value equipment affects both the bottom line and top line of a hospital. High inventory levels certainly increase costs, but improved asset visibility can increase bed turns and therefore revenue.
Asset location helps medical facilities in other ways, also - from improved equipment maintenance to audits or even implementing restricted access zones throughout a facility.
How can all this innovative technology ultimately help patients?
Jeffrey Rideout: The most important result is much more real-time responsiveness from clinical staff - and by speeding up the time to diagnosis and treatment, the quality of care improves. For example, if a patient is trying to call a nurse or physician, the technology allows that call to be received automatically by the intended person, rather than having calls relayed through a nurse's station.
It also means cutting down on errors. E-prescriptions, as just one example, are more legible than their handwritten counterparts, and they can also be integrated with online prescription databases, to provide warnings for adverse medication interactions.
Is the Clinical Connection Suite in use at any medical facilities today?
Pierre-Paul Allard: Yes, facilities around the world are implementing advanced IT applications like the Clinical Connection Suite to improve patient care.
Boston Medical Center, a 550-bed teaching facility that forms part of the Boston University School of Medicine, has recently deployed Nurse Call to help with real-time communication with its patients. Likewise, St. Olav's Hospital in Trondheim, Norway has implemented new treatment methods while delivering improved quality of care, with the help of Nurse Call. And Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is using location-based services to help track perhaps one of the most important and surprisingly costly hospital assets - wheelchairs.
How does Cisco envision the future of healthcare?
Jeffrey Rideout: Our ultimate vision for connected health is an environment in which information is exchanged securely and freely by everyone who needs to provide information for patients.
That connected health environment is supported by the Cisco Medical-Grade Network - an optimized network for healthcare delivery that helps enable real-time collaboration, resiliency, security, responsiveness and connectivity. With connected health, we can dramatically improve patient care.