Explosion of Technology in Healthcare Requires Cooperation Between IT and Facilities

With the big HIMSS 13  event going on in New Orleans this week, I’ve got healthcare on my mind. HIMSS is focused on healthcare in IT and there’s certainly lots going on in that area these days, so much so that it requires some real cooperation between IT and facilities groups in health care organizations.

What’s happening in healthcare is much like the explosion we saw in data centers over the last decade or so that forced facilities and IT groups to work more closely together to ensure data centers meet IT and business requirements. The difference is healthcare IT is literally everywhere throughout a hospital building, healthcare campus or outpatient clinical office, which means facilities and IT groups have to work together to ensure the entire facility meets user’s needs while meeting various regulations around patient safety and building requirements.

When I talk with executives from healthcare organizations, I find they typically have 5 overarching goals and concerns:

– Improve financial performance
– Improve patient safety
– Simplify regulatory compliance practices
– Increase patient satisfaction
– Enhance productivity and ensure retention of quality people

Effective IT systems are crucial to meeting all of these objectives, whether it’s the move to electronic health records, digital radiology or telemetry systems that show patient vital stats on large in-room screens. IT is becoming increasingly mobile, with “computers on wheels” increasingly giving way to mobile devices used at the patient bedside and used for recording data, checking for drug interactions and the like.

Patients interact with technology almost from the moment they step into a hospital. From registration to the point where they’re outfitted with bar-coded ID bands, to IV pumps, computerize physician order entry systems and lots more, technology is now core to the delivery of quality healthcare.

As a result, hospitals also have a requirement for continuous, uninterrupted power to ensure these distributed IT systems are always on. This is where the need for coordination between facilities and IT organizations comes into play. Without proper coordination, healthcare facilities run the risk of violating various building and healthcare regulations.

Hospitals are governed by a variety of codes and regulations, from ASHRAE ventilation codes to NFPA fire standards. They are also subject to power codes that get to patient safety, such as UL 60601, which governs the safety and reliable operation of medical electrical equipment, and UL 1363A, which outlines requirements for power strips used in medical facilities.

Among other requirements, the codes seek to ensure that electric currents emitted from the various medical devices in a typical hospital room don’t harm patients. The more electronic devices that find their way into a patient’s room, the more difficult it becomes to comply with the standard. In short, you can’t just plug any old power strip into the wall behind a patient’s bed, then plug all sorts of medical equipment into it.

At the same time, with all these devices being critical to patient care, healthcare providers need to ensure they are always on. That means they need UPS protection, just like critical servers in a data center. Here again, given the various codes that need to be met, it’s not quite as simple as installing a UPS in every patient room and calling it a day. It takes coordination between facilities and IT groups to ensure all the devices are up to code.

And this isn’t a one-time endeavor, where systems are installed and forgotten. In a dynamic hospital environment, patients, doctors and nurses are constantly on the move. It stands to reason that their IT systems will likewise be moved on occasion, and not just the inherently mobile ones. So hospitals need IT and building management information systems that can communicate with one another, sharing data to help ensure the facility makes the right moves and doesn’t jeopardize patient safety or quality of care.

In general, healthcare organizations need to take a strategic approach to ensure coordination between IT and facilities groups not just in the data center but anywhere technology is prevalent. And in most healthcare organizations, technology is pretty much everywhere.

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