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Thailand hospital e-health system saves money, lives

Dan Nystedt | May 13, 2009
Digitization has sped processes and eased information access

"In the U.S. weve become much more accustomed to saying we need something thats highly specialized to our discipline and I think the reality is somewhere in between," Reel said.

That wasn't a problem for Bumrungrad, an example of a hospital that has benefited from the U.S. experience. Some of the software developers at Global Care Solutions previously worked on hospital IT systems in the U.S. and Europe, and were able to bring best practices to the effort.

The software maker was also able to troubleshoot issues specific to Bumrungrad by working with doctors and nurses.

The result of a single software set for all Bumrungrad departments is a system able to communicate with itself throughout the hospital, and manipulate data in any way the hospital deems useful.

The hardware is also simplified to use equipment from one vendor, Dell.

Bumrungrads entire system, including backup, includes two database servers, Dell 1950s, three application servers, also Dell 1950s, and Dell/EMC CX3-80 SANs for storage. Every PC, monitor and printer at the hospital is also from Dell, making it easy for the IT staff to take out and replace broken computers. Around 20 people work for the IT department at Bumrungrad, far fewer than at U.S. hospitals of a similar size.

U.S. IT systems are so complex that Microsoft sells an entirely different software for electronic medical records there, called Amalga UIS (Unified Information System). As the name suggests, the main function of the software is simply to unify the data collected by all of the other proprietary systems at a hospital to create an electronic medical record.

Bumrungrad's experience suggests that an e-health records system will become essential once other hospitals see the cost reductions and other benefits. The safety improvements alone at Bumrungrad could slash costs in the U.S. by reducing the errors that lead to lawsuits.

"I have seen the actual effect, when physicians are nervous about litigation," said Pat Downing, a founder of Global Care Solutions and now senior director of Amalga HIS products at Microsoft. "They order more than, perhaps, they need to, to protect themselves. Frankly, there is also a lot of over-ordering related to poor coordination of care, when doctors do not know what other doctors are doing in real time."

Microsoft is far from alone in its interest in e-health systems. Large vendors from IBM to Philips as well as companies such as Allscripts, Cerner and Eclipsys have been buying up or partnering with promising companies focused on medical technology.

And evidence of the benefits of e-health records continues to mount.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in January reported that one part of an electronic health record alone, automated medical notes, was associated with a 15 percent decrease in hospital deaths. An electronic health record means no more misplaced notes.


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