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IT strategy at Nationwide Children's Hospital sticks to basics

Allel Bernard | March 12, 2013
As Nationwide Children's Hospital opens a $430 million facility, the CIO for the Columbus, Ohio-based facility says her strategy focuses less on cutting-edge technology and more on improving the user experience for patients and physicians alike.

Even though healthcare is under tremendous pressure to improve outcomes, reduce costs and increase efficiencies, the famous healthcare mantra "do no harm" guided the technology decision-making that went into the newly completed hospital to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

"It is possible that the technology will bring savings by insuring that we better utilize nurse and physician time," says NCH CIO Denise Zabawski. "If the family and patient are happy with their stay at Children's and the care they receive, they are more likely to return to Children's. However, we did not set any financial goals or plan to measure for improved growth or savings."

NCH's new facility is the largest pediatric construction project in the nation, and it makes NCH one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the country. Each of its 12 floors is bigger than a football field; the whole project took seven years to plan and $430 million to build. With the addition of the new hospital, NCH will treat more than one million patients in 2013.

It's not often that a CIO or her IT department gets a greenfield opportunity of this caliber to work with. You might think she pulled out all the stops and installed as much cutting-edge tech as she could. But that's not what happened.

Better Staff, Clinical Workflow Target of IT Investments

When it comes to technology, healthcare is catching up to other industries. The reasons are many, said NCH's CIO Denise Zabawski, but the bottom line is that a pediatric hospital that admits only the sickest kids-some of whom stay for months, even years-is not the place to learn that a vendor was reaching a bit when it promised something would work.

"A lot of what we put in the hospital was the [clinical staff's] desire to improve workflow processes," Zabawski says, as well as "safety and quality, to make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing for patient care."

With these marching orders in hand, Zabawski's team got to work. Fortunately, it came on board early to work closely with the clinical staff to find out what worked and what didn't. Taking a page from NASA's playbook, the team built full-scale mock ups of patient rooms, the ER and other key hospital departments so staff could study their layout and suggest where to put things. Cardboard cut-outs had to stand in for some to the new tech, but as much of the room as possible was functional.

"We were heavily involved," Zabawski says, "because we needed to understand where phones went, where network jacks went, what kind of density we needed for network based on technology and where the head end equipment was going in."

 

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