4 characteristics of a fully digital healthcare organization

March 15, 2017 |  Lists, CIO


Dr. Peter Bak, CIO at Humber River Hospital (HRH) in Toronto, was named 2016 Canadian CIO of the Year by the Information Technology Association of Canada. Under Dr. Bak’s leadership, HRH has deployed a staggering array of cutting-edge technologies, leading observers to declare it “North America’s first fully digital hospital.” In this blog post, Dr. Bak shares four characteristics of a fully digital hospital. As he is quick to point out, it means much more than going paperless!


1. Electronic Information

On the face of it, this seems like a standard characteristic of any modern healthcare organization. Information must be readily available to those who need it — and immediately actionable. What distinguishes a fully digital organization from a partially digital one is that ALL data is available electronically. Not just medical data, but data from every clinical, business, and facility system. This includes data from HVAC, electrical, security, elevators, RTLS, nurse call, and nearly every other system. Leveraging the digital data from all of these systems drives more efficient workflow.

2. Mobile & Connected

A fully digital organization makes information available ANYTIME and ANYWHERE. This means more than access to information, but access to people, because it’s people who act on that information. Person-to-person communications are vital for collaboration in healthcare. At Humber River, we use Android-based, rugged handheld devices that allow for secure voice, video, and chat that is closed-loop in nature, ensuring that both parties always acknowledge communications. One-to-one and one-to-many channels must allow information to flow seamlessly, in real-time, between providers and their support staff. System-to-people communication leverages actionable data to let people know when and what to do. This increases safety, ensures greater efficiency, and takes the stress out of the job.

Our solutions support the active exchange of EHR data across care settings of all sizes, improving patient care and providing a foundation for your population health strategy. Read more about how our solutions support interoperable care.

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3. Patient Empowerment

One of the guiding principles of our hospital redevelopment project was “family and patient-centered care.” We consider the patient experience in everything we do because we want patients to feel empowered in their own care. This is why we’ve made every patient room a “smart room” with a bedside terminal that allows patients to set the room environment, adjust the lighting, make video calls, access the internet, and review their own medical charts and test results. It’s also why we have automated guided vehicles to deliver medications and supplies, using internal corridors to keep patient and family areas quiet and calm.

4. Systems Automation

Many healthcare organizations automate specific systems — typically those associated with direct care delivery. A fully digital hospital goes further to automate as many systems as possible, and make them interoperable. Our fully automated lab and pharmacy systems are good examples. We now take samples at the patient’s bedside, label them on the spot with a barcode printer, and immediately send them to the lab via a pneumatic tube system. What once took several hours now takes less than one, from order to result. Similarly, we have a closed-loop medication ordering process, enabling orders to be sent directly from the EHR to the central pharmacy, where a robotic system picks, packages, and labels medications with barcodes. Automated guided vehicles deliver medications, which are scanned at the bedside by the nurse to ensure accuracy. The benefits of these automated processes are enormous because they not only improve patient safety, but they’re dramatically more efficient. This allows our providers more time for direct patient care.

Humber’s challenge now is to put our wide array of electronic information to full use and accelerate the shift from static and reactive models to more dynamic and predictive ones. We’ve built a digital platform that will allow us to advance more rapidly than ever before, driving continuous change and improvement by applying analytics for smarter decision making and enhanced action. Today, we’re developing predictive analytics and associated workflows to improve interventions, reduce length of stay, and eliminate “never” events. Our goal is to drive the kind of advancement in healthcare we’ve all witnessed in the digital consumer world. The explosion of new consumer devices and apps was made possible by many of the same characteristics I’ve described: access to electronic information, a mobile and connected environment, and systems that are more integrated and automated. We aim to leverage these same characteristics to help us deliver safe, efficient, and effective, patient-centered care. We hope our work inspires other organizations to do so as well.

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Written by Dr. Peter Bak, Chief Information Officer, Humber River Hospital

Peter Bak is a Certified Management Consultant with over 25 years of experience in healthcare technology product development and marketing, healthcare ICAT (information, communication and automation technology) system/solution architecture design, healthcare IT, and IT project management. Outside of his role at Humber River Hospital he is an Assistant Professor at McMaster University (Faculty of Health) and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Amref Health Africa, which provides training and health services to more than 30 countries in Africa. He holds a Ph.D. in Applied Engineering from Imperial College London.