How do they do IT? Mater Hospital

A look at Queensland's largest independent hospital group's IT strategy

Mater Hospital CMIO Dr Paul Devenish-Meares and CIO Malcolm Thatcher

Mater Hospital CMIO Dr Paul Devenish-Meares and CIO Malcolm Thatcher

Seven hospitals, 1000 beds, 7000 staff, 9000 babies, 35,000 theatre cases and 90,000 emergency attendances is all in a year’s work at Queensland’s largest independent hospital group.

The Mater Hospital has embraced the role of IT in enabling healthcare through the development of a ‘Smart Hospital Strategy’. And it does this with funding of just two per cent of the hospital’s $750 million yearly budget.

The mammoth task of making it all work and migrating the hospital to a paperless environment with a fully-functioning electronic health records system falls to CIO Malcolm Thatcher, and Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) Dr Paul Devenish-Meares.

Thatcher, who has been with the hospital since 2004, explained the healthcare industry is episodic and careful consideration has to be given to any form of integration due to the complex division between wards.

“Because we have so many different services, we have over 240 enterprise systems hosted in our data centres, so we have to look at how we integrate those services – there’s no ERP for healthcare,” Thatcher said.

With up to 100,000 messages sent across the hospital’s system daily, an agile IT infrastructure with high availability is required to respond quickly to physicians' needs and provision services and systems in an efficient manner.

According to Thatcher, it’s literally the difference between life and death.

“As this organisation invests more and more into their clinical information systems and more and more dependence on those systems, then we are talking about the potential difference between life and death,” Thatcher said.

Late last year, the Mater Hospital became one of the first hospitals in Australia to realise the potential of having a clinical advisor adorn an IT role, which led to the appointment of Devenish-Meares as CMIO, extending his 30 year tenure as an obstetrician.

Together, both CIO and CMIO aim to integrate the huge volume of information that pours through the hospital.

The hospital’s IT architecture comprises virtualised storage and servers, a data warehouse and an in-house software development team that has created around 240 applications. It also uses a Cisco Medical-Grade Network with wireless and gigabit wired Ethernet with data, voice and video capabilities, and a 802.11a/g LAN/VLAN. The Cisco kit includes the deployment of hundreds of 7925 wireless IP phones.

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Other equipment onboard includes netbooks, Panasonic Toughbook devices, Verdi Software for patient records, a BadgerNet database to track all equipment a newborn baby is hooked-up to, the digital recording of labour to detect birth defects and RFID technology tracking equipment and patients.

Mater is also striving to integrate remote monitoring technology throughout its seven sites across the state.

While it continues to also strive for a paperless environment, and is the only private hospital in Australia that is a member of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) which has the same goal, Thatcher conceded the hospital will never be fully paperless.

“You can’t share an electronic health record if there isn’t an electronic health record. I know the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) have a focus on personal electronic health records, but the consumer has to be engaged. We’re not going to get value out of a shared health record if there is no consumer engagement. The health sector as well has to step-up itself, because the quality of information that is in that health record will be pivotal [to the CIMO and staff],” Thatcher said.

CEO Dr John O’Donnell said the overall approach gives Mater the ability to dictate its own strategies.

“Behind all the clinical innovation, there has to sit innovation in other areas,” O’Donnell said.

“Through [the appointment of a Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO)], there’s some tangible commitment to making sure the clinicians are very closely involved, not just in the development of strategy, but in the detailed implementation.”

See how the AFL and NRL do IT on their respective grand final days here.

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