Dignity Health is going through big changes. After years of growth and a recent name change (from Catholic Healthcare West), the organization is upgrading its technology infrastructure and electronic health record (EHR) system to enhance collaboration, patient care, and regulatory compliance. As the fifth-largest hospital network in the United States, serving 17 states, supporting 41 acute care hospitals and 300 care sites, and employing about 60,000 people, this is no small task.
The organization is working with Cisco and World Wide Technology (WWT) to consolidate disparate systems and implement a modern networking and wireless infrastructure, with the ultimate goals of fostering better communication and collaboration among business and clinical users, while at the same time being more efficient and driving down the rising cost of patient care. Two important ingredients in Dignity Health’s multi-year, cross-team communications improvements are:
- The adoption of Cisco® WebEx® Meetings collaboration platform
- The rollout of Cisco Jabber® instant messaging (IM) software
Doing more with less
“As with any large organization, we are expecting growth over the next few years, but we are also in an industry where we are being asked to do more with less,” says Ash Shehata, senior director of Enterprise IT Operations at Dignity Health. “In a very paper-based industry, we are looking to streamline the process and maximize the returns by leveraging technology.”
According to Shehata, the organization is looking to expand their operations and individual clinic business by another 30 percent in the next two to three years. Due to growth from hospital and clinic acquisitions, they already have a severe mismatch of communications and PBX systems.
In addition, prior to the infrastructure upgrade, about 80 percent of the facilities had no wireless networks. But since the implementation, they are moving rapidly to “an extremely clinical-dense” VoIP wireless infrastructure that is able to deliver data directly to clinicians at their patients’ bedsides.
Moving toward electronic health records
The main reason a stronger, more integrated network is necessary for the success of Dignity Health’s collaboration vision lies with its $1.8 billion EHR program.
“We are going from hospital to hospital and delivering a complete technology refresh. We are rebranding and re-implementing our local area and wide area networks, and implementing wireless–and it’s all on Cisco infrastructures,” Shehata says.
- To date, Dignity Health has implemented the new networks at more than a dozen hospitals and 100 clinics.
- Dignity Health is already seeing positive changes in both productivity and the meaningful use of data.
“The data that we have been able to collect has enabled us to deliver just-in-time, consistent patient care,” Shehata says. “Just as important is the connectivity from a physician’s perspective. We have been able to demonstrate and give them seamless access to patient data in an anywhere-anytime, secure fashion. We’ve never been able to do that before.”
Business and patient care improvements
Laura Young, vice president of IT Clinical Improvement at Dignity Health, says project success, from a business perspective, is judged on three criteria:
- How people adopt the technology
- If the technology works as intended
- Whether the hospital has been kept financially viable
According to Young, the project has been successful on all three fronts.
“One of the really important lessons learned early on is the clinicians need to be using the system, and be part of the implementation and activation process, so it is not just seen as something being done by IT,” she says.
“From a financial perspective, the hospitals have been able to generate significant revenue on a weekly basis by tracking workflow and other billing options that weren’t achievable before,” Young says. “For example, maybe before a nurse couldn’t document her observation time. Or maybe it was just easier to ignore charging a peripheral, an IV bag, or something along those lines. And so there was revenue that was lost.”
And according to Dr. Elise Dempsey, vice president of Clinical Informatics at Dignity Health, there is a noticeable increase in throughput as a result of the new technology. This fosters a better patient experience, she says, because it minimizes delays. And because the data is stored centrally and available wirelessly, it allows clinicians to access it whenever they need it.
“Patients know when the nurse takes their history and updates their records, the data will be available for all their care providers and they won't get asked the same questions over and over again,” Dempsey says. “And we can send patients home with information they can look at later. We spend significant time making sure patients have all the education they need to be able to take care of themselves, and get well more quickly.”