As we mentioned in our blog post on Monday, this is National Health IT Week 2012 and Level 3 Communications has partnered with organizations across the United States to spotlight the critical role that information technology plays in healthcare today, as well as the increasingly important role it will play in the future.
Our previous post focused on the big picture by discussing how healthcare organizations are seeking greater interconnectedness in order to facilitate collaboration, reduce costs, and improve patient care. In today’s post, we will dig down into some specific technologies that are driving the need for more advanced data communications networks in the healthcare industry.
Electronic medical records (EMRs) have gotten a lot of attention the past couple of years, not only in medical circles, but also in the public debate about the future of healthcare. Every discussion about how to reduce costs in healthcare inevitably brings up the significant efficiencies to be gained from transitioning medical records from paper to digital formats that can be easily shared by all the doctors and healthcare organizations involved in a patient’s care. One of the most widely quoted projections of potential savings predicts a six percent gain in efficiency, based on an extensive government study conducted by the Veterans Health Administration. That’s no small change when you consider that healthcare is a whopping 17 percent of the U.S. GDP in the latest market estimate—making it more than $2.5 trillion in size. The efficiency gain from electronic medical records could save tens of billions of dollars. But even if the efficiency gains are only one percent, that’s still billions in savings. Billions are nothing to sneeze at, so it’s no wonder there is so much buzz about EMRs.
Similarly, Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) are critical for enabling the sharing of EMRs and supporting additional collaboration among healthcare organizations. If EMRs are the cargo, then HIEs are the super-fast vehicles that deliver the cargo to where it needs to go. HIEs are the systems that link together the computing and data storage devices across different hospitals, doctors’ offices, insurance providers and even ambulances within a city, state, region or country.
For example, HIEs allow the computing system from an emergency room at one hospital to communicate with the computing system of a pediatrician who works offsite, allowing information (like a medical record or scan) to be shared across the two systems in a seamless way in real time, regardless of all the disparate technology involved. Without an HIE, the shared data would be indecipherable as it passed from one system to the next. But with an HIE, all the systems speak the same language.
To ensure a seamless implementation and realize the efficiencies from EMR and HIE initiatives, healthcare organizations also need to regularly upgrade their IT systems. That’s why Level 3 advises all of the healthcare organizations we work with to review both their short- and long-term network and data needs for EMRs and HIEs. By looking at the network requirements early in the process, healthcare organizations can save themselves a lot of time, money and headaches compared to getting too far down the planning path only to discover that their IT infrastructure is not sufficient to support their needs.
One organization that is leading the way by being proactive about these network and data communications needs is Dialysis Clinic, Inc. (DCI), a nonprofit that provides comprehensive patient care to people with chronic kidney disease. DCI has more than 230 dialysis centers nationwide, and their doctors, nurses and administrative staff collaborate across a large geographic area every day on patient care and on their business operations.
DCI was experiencing network slowdowns that made it difficult for medical staff to work with Web-based applications, so the company set out to make upgrades that would solve that problem. In addition, DCI wanted to look beyond their near-term needs to make sure that their IT infrastructure would support advancements, such as EMRs and collaboration with other medical facilities. DCI implemented enterprise-class wide area network connectivity over a secure, dedicated infrastructure that ensures through low latency and high bandwidth that their applications perform and that patient care is enhanced.
By thinking ahead about these infrastructure issues, DCI not only addressed the immediate need to solve the network slowdowns, but also laid the foundation for supporting the kinds of health IT applications that require more advanced data networks. That’s an important lesson for any healthcare organization that wants to ensure the success of their healthcare IT projects.
To end this series of customer stories in the Healthcare Industry, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite pieces that our teams have produced. It’s a fun and informative video overview on how Level 3 can partner with you to provide security, scalability and responsiveness you can rely on — day and night.