Build or buy?
That’s a question hospital chief information officers face when they want to extend mobile technology into their institutions.
The answer, IT and medical professionals were told at a conference in Toronto on mobile healthcare Wednesday, is that it depends on the circumstances.
Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital decided to build a new front end for its systems when it chose to let doctors use Apple iPhones to access patient data, attendees learned, while a southern Ontario health district ran a trial giving diabetes patient access to their medical information largely using existing technology and getting vendors to donate services.
“There is no one-size fits all” was one of the messages from the two-day event, as several case studies proved.
The conference examined ways in which healthcare providers are turning to the latest tablet computers and smart phones to give medical staff and patients better access to electronic health records.
At Mount Sinai, for example, vice-president and CIO Prateek Dwivedi said he was stunned to learn when he joined the 427-bed institution three years ago that its electronic records system linked to 66 applications.
Doctors and nurses were still wedded to paper. They also didn’t want to spend time learning new technology.
So in 2009 his applications development staff built a new front-end to all the applications in three months for accessing almost all hospital applications on an iPhone. The goal was a tool staff needed no training on.
Or, as Dwiveldi put it, “We know we failed if someone has to pick up an instruction book.”
Now called VitalHub, the interface lets staff access much of the material that would be on a patient’s chart such as vital signs, alerts and lab results in real time, plus users can send text message and email colleagues.
(While developers learned the staff’s processes by following them around, Dwiveldi admitted they weren’t asked for input on the design. “Sometimes,” he explained, “you go with your feelings.”)
For security, no information is stored on the device.
To fund further development the hospital spun VitalHub into a private company early last year in hopes of selling it to other hospitals. Earlier this week Toronto’s MaRS Centre became the latest seed investor in the startup, putting in $300,000. Dwiveldi said two unnamed Ontario hospitals have signed up and may be announced in two months.
VitalHub is in its third version now, still in pilot stage at Mount Sinai. Eventually the hospital hopes to equip all of its 1,300 nurses and 345 doctors with iPhones.