A space-age hospital

The minute you set foot in the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital you cannot help but sense that there is something very different. Is it the lack of people fluttering about in a panic? Maybe it is the lack of long queues so synonymous with hospitals around this country, or maybe it is the lack of dot-matrix printers hammering out patient records, labels and forms at admissions. It is in fact all of the above, and more.

Once inside South Africa's space-age hospital, you realize paper is a thing of the past. It all starts the minute you walk into admissions. An electronic patient record (ERP) is created, which is uploaded to the hospital’s central database, and becomes available for any doctor in any department to read at and time. Patients no longer have to worry about carrying lab reports or test results back and forth, and, as for X-rays -- well, those are a thing of the past.

The KZN Department of Health (DoH) awarded the contract for the hospital to the Impilo Consortium, comprising Vulindlela Holdings, Omame Investments, Mbekani Health & Wellbeing, Siemens, Drake & Scull and AME. AME Africa Healthcare was appointed by Impilo to implement, manage and operate the information management and technology (IM&T) elements of the project over the 15-year term.

According to the DoH, the solution had to fulfill certain criteria to be considered a success. Says Graeme Allen, ICT director at AME: “The agreement was for the implementation of an affordable, world-class ICT solution, over a 15-year term. The solution also had to be based on scalable cutting-edge technologies, that could adapt to changes in the medical environment.”

On a recent tour of the hospital, our first stop was the server room, or the nerve center of the hospital. Says Allen: “We installed HP (Hewlett-Packard) servers and desktops, Lexmark and Zebra printers, Symbol scanners -- and doctors and nurses use Dell notebooks with built-in wireless network interface cards (NICs) to connect to a network backbone run on Cisco equipment.”

The system back-end is based on a set of five clustered HP Alpha servers, connected to an HP StorageWorks storage area network (SAN). “This provides resilience and redundancy, catering for the uptime requirements in a totally filmless and paperless environment,” he says.

“Additionally, Business Connexion supplied the monitoring services for the entire system, using applications including CiscoWorks, HP OpenView, Lexmark MarkVision and Compaq InSite XE to ensure network and hardware uptime,” he adds.

Adrian Schoeman, Business Connexion healthcare business development manager, says that the SAP installations were a major feat, as the entire roll-out had to be completed within a six-month period from the start of the project.

Keep up with changes

According to Heinz Smidek, MD of AME: “Training our staff was one of the biggest challenges, we had to make sure they had a solid grounding of computer skills and were proficient in running both Windows and the various medical programs we run. To date, we have trained over 2,100 nurses and doctors, and we offer refresher courses every three to four weeks. One reason we do this is because the medical and ICT industries are changing rapidly, and we therefore have to keep up with the changes.”

“Another reason we offer these classes is that our contract with the KZN DoH dictates that we keep both the software and hardware on a par with international standards -- in essence this means that we have to replace systems just about every five years,” says Smidek.

Our second stop at the hospital was the radiology department. At first glance it looks like any other high-tech lab, with a lot of computers and equipment that only the nurses know how to use. However, the one main difference is that there are no film or X-ray boards. Everything is done in real time, meaning that an ‘X-Ray’ is shot and saved straight to the patient’s ERP. Doctors throughout the hospital then view the images on their desktops, or even on the LCD panels situated around the hospital -- performing a similar function to traditional light boxes.

Our last stop was the ICU. This is where you really get to see how technology can make a difference in our lives. Firstly, situated around each patient, are three monitors, similar to any ICU ward. However, the one monitor displaying the patient’s vital signs to the nurse at the side of his or her bed is concurrently writing to the patient’s ERP. Thus, when a doctor wants to check up on any patient, all he has to do is call up the file and get a real-time update.

Smidek claims: “The Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital is the first of its kind in Africa, in fact it is only the second of its kind in the world, the first hospital being in Malaysia.”

“Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will see more and more hospitals like this springing up around the world, and, more importantly in Africa, transforming Africa into a world leader in the medical and health sectors,” concludes Smidek.

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