Healthcare's Prescription Is IT's Headache

By Sharon Linsenbach  |  Posted 2008-03-13 Print this article Print

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IT carries most of the support burden for these technological advances, according to both Jacobs and Heftler. A hospital IT/IS department installs, integrates, manages, monitors and troubleshoots most of the technology-driven clinical care hardware, software and network infrastructure a hospital is connected to.

"These new hospital networks allow for multiple clinical applications and devices to connect to the same conduit, and it really makes a potential support problem," Jacobs said.  Every device down to the smallest hand-held prescription scanner has to be supported, he said, adding that clinicians are dependent on IT to ensure all those technologies are simple to use and secure.  

"There's a huge number of biomedical devices that IT needs to support now, whether on the wireless or the wired network, 24/7: ventilators, pumps, nurse call systems -- all this has to be supported by IT, all this has to work on the same network," Heftler said. Because of ubiquitous high-speed Internet access at home, she said many clinicians are asking for the same kinds of speeds at work so they can read X-rays and view EKG results in real time, for instance.       

These demands necessitated a shift in the support model, including hiring new staff and creating new support roles like 24/7 phone support staff and field service technicians. 

"When you were supporting PCs and people used them for Excel or Word, a problem could wait until Monday morning.  But if you're supporting a nurse call system, or a ventilator or a pump, you can't tell a patient, 'Sorry, it'll wait until Monday,'" Heftler said. While she said she's extremely proud of the ability of her department to support cutting-edge technology, she said it certainly was a change in mindset.   

Jacobs said challenges aside, he's extremely optimistic about the direction healthcare is taking. He said IT has the potential to sharpen the focus of the healthcare system on patient needs and preferences through technologies such as self-service kiosks, online appointment scheduling and EHRs. Providing a more holistic view of a patient throughout their lifetime using EHRs, storage and high-speed networking could result in much higher quality care and a greater collaboration between patient and doctor, he said. 

"IT really can awaken the care relationships between physicians and providers and patients to levels not seen since the 1900s," he said.

Sharon Linsenbach Sharon Linsenbach is a staff writer for eWEEK and eWEEK Channel Insider. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, Sharon was Assistant Managing Editor for CRN, a weekly magazine for PC and technology resellers. Before joining CRN, Sharon was an Acquisitions Editor for The Coriolis Group and later, Editorial Director with Paraglyph Press, both in Scottsdale, AZ. She holds a BA in English from Drew University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her significant other and two neurotic cats. When she's not reading or writing about technology, Sharon enjoys yoga, knitting, traveling and live music. Sharon can be reached at

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