High-tech healthcare

Multihospital intranet helps keep patients, providers, and payers in touch with medical information.


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At a Glance

CareGroup Healthcare System

The company: Boston-based CareGroup Healthcare System includes six hospitals, 2,500 providers, and 800,000 patients in the Northeastern United States.

The problem: CareGroup needed to deliver better care for patients at a lower cost to the organization.

The solution: The CareWeb intranet system consolidates medical records from geographically dispersed patients into a single clinical database accessible via a Web browser.

The IT infrastructure: Windows NT is the main platform for Exchange 5.5 mail servers, Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0 Web servers, SQL Server 7.0 servers for storing financial transactional data, and InterSystems' CACHI e-DBMS software. CareGroup also runs several redundant back-up servers and UNIX application servers for back-end applications.
Most people appreciate the Internet's instant delivery of stock quotes, weather reports, and international news. But few realize Web access may have life-saving potential.

Instant access to patients' medical histories is letting doctors diagnose and treat people more quickly thanks to an intranet called CareWeb. The Web-based medical information system was created by CareGroup Healthcare System as the antidote for elevating the level of patient care, while at the same time, lowering operational costs. The system was first introduced in 1998. Most recently, in April, CareGroup rolled out the Secure Patient/Physician Communication application, a database of clinical information, which currently has about 250 users.

"With our clinical systems on the Web, if I am an E.R. doctor and a 53-year-old patient rolls in with chest pain I am able to compare that day's events with what happened [to him] a year ago," says Dr. John Halamka, CIO of CareGroup, in Boston.

CareGroup officials say the system has proven its merit by increasing the level of patient care while reducing expenses. "Without a doubt, the quality of care that we deliver to patients has improved, and the stress level has decreased," says Dr. David Sands, a CareGroup physician as well as a Boston-based CareWeb user. CareWeb saves the organization about $1 million annually, CareGroup officials say. It is this type of savings that will prompt the deployment of more CareWeb-type intranets down the road, notes Carl Olofson, program director at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham Mass.

While hospitals are often on the leading edge of medical technology, they aren't known for breaking new ground in information technology. But the relatively low cost of intranet systems for streamlining data is giving healthcare organizations an affordable means of achieving a competitive edge in the way business is conducted as well as the way their patients are treated.

John Halamka, CIO, says CareGroup changed from a paper-based to a Web-enabled process with very little money invested.

Benefits abound

CareWeb replaces a cumbersome paper-based medical information retrieval system. Now, finding information is a matter of typing the right commands into a computer. The intranet puts patients' medical histories at physicians' browser-enabled fingertips. Information such as allergies, medications used, and surgeries a patient has had, are all available.

Access to CareWeb is not limited to physicians and nurses. Patients have quick and easy online access to their own medical information. They can also fill prescriptions and request referrals. Users simply need a browser and a password, which is provided by CareWeb, to access the intranet.

The idea behind CareWeb is to create an environment in which doctors provide better care for patients--even if they have never seen them before--because all patient history information is readily available. "We started sharing information across the network so that whether patients go downtown or to a community hospital, all of their information is available to doctors," explains Halamka, in Cambridge, Mass. The new Secure Patient/Physician Communication application secures all information via 128-bit secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption. Full auditing and special commands in Web pages prevent users from caching in the browser.

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