Connecting Medical Communities with Advanced Technology

    MMC Nurse at computerWhen we think of medical technology, we often think of machines – not only imposing-looking diagnostic equipment, but smaller electronic tools such as computers and hand-held devices. Often our concept of technology revolves around the “hardware” we see in healthcare settings.

    Mike Ward doesn’t see it that way. For Covenant Health’s chief information officer, technology is a means to an end. It’s a way to achieve quality and safety goals, make services consistent across the health system, and save  money – all with the goal of better connecting physicians, staff, and the patients we serve.

    “The bottom line is, the more efficient we are, the more community-minded we can be,” Ward said. “Efficiency and consistency of services free up resources that can be invested in our communities.”

    Using Technology to Achieve Quality

    Ward points out that technology is the linchpin that helps Covenant Health achieve high levels of quality – regardless of the facility or location where a patient receives care.

    Covenant Health’s data center includes over 850 servers, and 200 terabytes of storage capacity that are available to each hospital across the system via a high-speed gigabit network. “That means no single facility is limited by its physical plant capacity or financial constraints or challenges,” Ward said. “The technology is available for all members of the organization. It helps override ‘single facility’ thinking and helps the organization gain economies of scale to function better as a health system.

    “Every hospital has quality goals,” he said. “The connectedness that technology provides means that goals and best practices can be shared across the system. It doesn’t matter where in Covenant Health you are receiving care. When everyone is using the same nursing documentation system or the same system for emergency alerts, and when evidence-based practices and workflow are standardized, then the patient is going to receive a consistent quality of care.

    “We are always improving, always benchmarking against both internal and national standards for quality. It’s ‘national thinking,’ implemented in local caring.”

    As an example, Ward cites progress with a national “meaningful use” mandate, where healthcare organizations are challenged to use data in ways that improve patient safety and outcomes while paying close attention to information security. Some Covenant Health meaningful use initiatives include computerized patient order entry, real-time medication alerts to prevent allergy or drug interactions, and automating evidence-based care processes so physicians and caregivers have immediate access to information about best practices.

    Other initiatives include computer-generated review and reconciliation of the patient’s medications upon admission to the hospital, and delivery of relevant clinical information to the case management system in order to plan  appropriate post-discharge care.

    MHHS Doc with computer and patientBeyond Health System Boundaries

    Ward is also leading the charge to expand technology benefits beyond Covenant Health. As president of the East Tennessee Health Information Network (etHIN), he collaborates with leaders at other area not-for-profit health systems to create what will eventually be an electronic community of care that will encompass 17 counties in East Tennessee. The local initiative supports national efforts to move to electronic health records and create secure networks for sharing information through a Health Information Exchange (HIE).

    “The goal is to make personal health information accessible both to the patient and to those healthcare providers who are part of his or her secure ‘community of care,’” Ward said. “The technology ultimately provides the support that allows physicians and patients to make more informed decisions, and for patients to receive more timely care, often with less pain, and less risk.

    “Technology plays a vital role in better outcomes for our patients and better health for our communities.”