e-Health – a road to virtual health care

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Perhaps one of the most significant advances in health care is not a new vaccine for a disease or even a new way to set broken bones, it is the advent of technology.

While technology has always been part of health care with the invention of the X-ray in the early part of the 20th century, it is only in the last 10 years that technology has become as critical to health care as the people who practice medicine. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), sophisticated monitoring devices and computers are examples of how technology and medicine work together for the benefit of the patient.

At William Osler Health Centre, technology has played a pivotal role enabling three separate and diverse entities to become one using state-of-the-art technology. Today each campus is linked through one converged Information Communication Technology (ICT) platform and most doctors are now linked to the Osler network so that they can obtain information on their patients quickly from their offices or homes without having to visit the hospital or wait for the post to come.

So what’s next?William Osler Health Centre is moving towards a more sophisticated ICT environment with technology advances in medicine and the adoption of an overall e-Health strategy.

“The vision for e-Health at William Osler Health Centre is a “virtual health centre” with service delivery and information connections to consumers and providers across the entire health spectrum, both internally and externally, extending within the region, as well as throughout the province and the global arena,” explains Judy Middleton, Director of Information Systems and Telecommunications. “This vision is achieved using Internet technologies to deliver health services.”

A major component of the overall e-Health strategy at William Osler Health Centre is the creation of a corporate Intranet, a web based internal information system, accessed by physicians and staff, and volunteers.

As a prelude to launching an Intranet platform at WOHC, the hospital is in the process of replacing all network or “dumb” terminals and antiquated personal computer (PC) devices with either new PCs or refurbished PCs within an 18-24 month period so that every department will have a PC in order to access the web-based Intranet.

“This has been a tremendous undertaking when you consider that we have to replace over 350 old PCs and dumb terminals within a very short time-frame,” says Middleton. The future will depend heavily on web-based technology so the investment of time and resources in preparation for this is definitely worth it.”

The e-Health vision at William Osler Health Centre is that it will be enabled by technology to become a virtual hospital providing access, collaboration and services to stakeholders across all of the internal and external communities it serves and in which it plays a part.

So why a virtual hospital? “The consumer, empowered by technology, is truly at the centre of the health system of the future,” explains Vicki Truman, Vice-president Finance and Corporate Services.

“Immediate access to health information has increased the awareness that people can influence their own health and challenge authority. A new convenient, hassle-free e-Health service model with choice and shared responsibility will be demanded. This change will put increased pressure on the Health Centre to adapt.”

Adds Middleton, “Web technology offers the advantages of providing a universal software client (the web browser) and a ready-made network platform, and has the potential to be the technology integrator for all our future initiatives.”

The architecture required to achieve this vision consists of five value components:

  • Care (Enabling the Electronic Health Record, remote diagnostics, monitoring and treatment, on-line referrals, tele-health.)
  • Connectivity (Linking physician offices, consumers, community agencies, hospital partners, suppliers, knowledge bases, and research institutes.)
  • Commerce (Enabling B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) transactions, interaction and information. Providing e-market capabilities.
  • Content (Facilitating knowledge management with electronic learning capabilities and access to information and research. Enhancing disease management and decision support. Links all health information.)
  • Computer Application (Common user access to all systems and applications (web browser). Facilitates linking multimedia information, and the use of wireless, mobile, point-of-care devices.

Plans are well underway for e-Health at William Osler Health Centre with an eye to having systems in place in time for the opening of the new William Osler Health Centre hospital in 2005.

“By effectively using Internet technology,” says Truman, “William Osler Health Centre will evolve into an e-Health organization.”