St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious research and teaching hospitals, has embarked on a major project with three partners that is meant to streamline clinical processes.

The initiative, Project Gemini, has IBM Canada Ltd., Getronics and Siemens Medical Solutions working with St. Mike’s toward the digital storage of patient records and medical images. The goal is to make medical records results more readily accessible to authorized St. Mike’s health care providers.

The first phase of the project is already under way. When it’s completed, the outcome will be a Picture Archive Archival and Communications System (PACS), a Radiology Information System (RIS) and a new clinical data repository with an improved clinical database application for viewing called Clinical Access results.

With an eye to rapid, accurate patient care, the hospital decided to move all its x-ray and ultrasound documents images to the online PACS environment. The system lets doctors view films almost instantly on the computer, instead of securing individual “hard copy” films from the hospital’s records department library and have the physical film hand delivered to their office.

The PACS system also means the hospital will no longer need to store or transport films throughout the facility. The medical imaging department is implementing a system that will digitize, computerize, catalogue and consolidate patient demographics, schedules and procedure status. It will also automate the imaging department’s reporting, billing and transcription processes.

To make Project Gemini a reality, St. Mike’s clinical and IT staff are working with a number of technology partners. Getronics and Siemens is developing much of the clinical software for the project, and the networking infrastructure was purchased from is designed and managed by Getronics. In addition to developing a number of services opportunities and meeting provided hardware requirements, IBM provided an extensive data storage system, which is to serve as the backbone of the system.

When the project began, St. Michael’s had a somewhat disconnected IT infrastructure made up of 150 individual servers, each attached to individual storage tape devices and tape libraries. This made it difficult to locate stored information and did not allow for a hospital-wide disaster recovery plan. Furthermore, IT staff spent more time fixing and maintaining the existing system than proactively developing new IT projects. For the new digital clinical system applications to run smoothly, the hospital needed a system that could quickly handle large volumes of data and ensure that it was available around the clock.

St. Mike’s achieved this by connecting its servers to an 8-terabyte storage server. Three terabytes would be used for the hospital administration system and five for the PACS repository. To afford quick access to the PACS environment, a dedicated IBM TotalStorage FAStT900 device was also installed.

The hospital then centralized its tape backup processes and installed an IBM hardware and software system that automatically backs up all server and application data.

The hospital also put a storage area network (SAN) volume controller in place that virtualized the storage system so IT staff could improve resource allocation whenever required. With all the hospital’s storage consolidated onto a single system, St. Michael’s then built a second data centre; it serves as a disaster recovery system and is powered by a different electrical grid.

John Wegener is CIO and vice-president of corporate resources at St. Michael’s Hospital. Barry Burk is general manager, health care industry, with IBM Canada.

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