High-tech healthcare: Page 3

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CareWeb also includes a handful of redundant back-up servers as well as Hewlett-Packard Co. HP/UX UNIX application servers for running back-end applications. For purposes of server maintenance, CareWeb uses a Cisco Systems Inc. virtual private network (VPN); if a server goes down, administrators can access and repair the faulty system remotely.

Another high-tech healthcare org

In a similar example of high-tech healthcare, Partners HealthCare Systems Inc., a multibillion-dollar integrated healthcare delivery system headquartered in Boston, is using the Web to deliver information more easily and quickly to thousands of physicians in its network. Partners HealthCare created the Partners Phone Directory (PPD), a collection of hospital directories and paging systems from hospitals in its network. The intranet offers e-mail connectivity, Web-based group paging, clinical system alerting, on-call schedules, and an operator answering service.

Currently, there are about 300 different applications available on CareWeb, and every day new ideas are evaluated for expansion, or reduction when applications are no longer necessary. In addition to forums for patients and insurance providers, CareWeb's applications include medical(such as one used for calculating kidney functions), financial, and even a signature authorization program.

Evaluating the bottom line

There are several ways CareGroup saves money through its Web-based medical information system. The organization is able to reduce administrative expenses in areas such as clinician search time, patient admittance processing time, and training time. For example, CareGroup has eliminated the expense of pulling paper-based charts; retrieving a file from a records department costs between $4 and $5, according to Halamka. He also estimates insurance transactions conducted over CareWeb are reduced from $7 to 10 cents per item because the administrative overhead is reduced.

"Even with all of their volume and specialized data management needs, hospitals have been somewhat neglected in the computer business because they are not seen as something where you can derive high profit margins. They are not in a position at any given point to make a large investment in technology," says IDC's Olofson. "But newer, Internet standards-based technology enables hospitals to establish connectivity and better database management without major investment."

Halamka estimates approximately $250,000 was spent on deploying the intranet, including hardware, software, and training. "Certainly, the amount of economy we can achieve [through CareWeb] is better," he says. "But even more than that, we have changed from a paper-based process to a Web-enabled process with very little money invested."

CareWeb also offers CareGroup the opportunity to make money: Halamka predicts an annual revenue increase of $3 million to $4 million based on new business opportunities created by the firm's e-business approach to managed healthcare. Halamka is hoping to attract new patients and retain existing ones through the convenience of Web technology. He also is expecting fewer referrals to non-CareGroup providers, since CareWeb's secure messaging emphasizes communication among CareGroup providers and patients. "Every aspect of our business depends on the Web; we are now 100% Web-enabled, he says." //

Amanda Mitchell Henry has been writing about business and technology for 10 years. She can be reached at amandamh@tstt.net.tt.

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