Setting up an IT department in hospital

Setting up a Robust Healthcare IT Department: Key Considerations and Strategies

Healthcare IT Department

Setting up of an IT Dept. in any hospital should begin with Selection of the CIO—the responsibility of  the board is to find a Physician Executive with IT experience and appoint him/her as the CIO. IT experts have a much steeper learning curve as a Hospital CIO, therefore should be the second best  choice. The hospital board can consider appointing an experienced external consultant to setup and hand hold the IT Dept.

IT Roadmap – To setup the hospital the first and the foremost thing is to lay down the IT roadmap to match with the hospital business needs. IT Roadmap will include the software, hardware, networking projections. Need to factor the transaction load in the short term and projected growth of beds and geographical spread in the long-term. If the organisation will be network of geographically spread hospitals then you need to invest heavily in a remote data centre with cloud based network architecture. Also the software should be able to accommodate multiple sites e.g. site based MRN, multiple Pharmacies, network of Labs and different state based Tax rules. Whereas you can manage with a sleek in-house IT setup if the hospital is going to be a single site monolithic organisation.

Software – CIO needs to plan the software application portfolio consisting of – HIS, EMR, RIS, PACS, LIMS, Pharmacy system, SCM, MMS, ERP etc. The portfolio should be derived from the IT Roadmap that in turn has to be planned as per the business vision of the organisation. Usually some software already exists that had been procured by some powerful stakeholders or lobbyists. The CIO has a difficult decision of how to use the existing but maybe redundant or obsolete investment or completely go for rip-and-replace. If old software is to be retained then the CIO must plan to open the hood and do a technical evaluation to make sure that the system is not bursting at the seams due to uncontrolled historical changes to the source code or implementation.

The best approach is a monolithic system that does everything from registration – medical records – orders – billing – lab – pharmacy – imaging etc. This system should also be able to take care of support functions such as HR, Finance etc. However India has very few systems available of this scale. Mostly hospitals have to piece it together. Financial constraints and priorities gravitate the decision towards HIS having limited capabilities at the cost of EMR. Anyhow the CIO must keep EMR with CPOE, CDSS and BCMA in the IT Roadmap and plan for it because you can’t achieve a digital hospital dream without a robust EMR. Also CPOE, CDSS and BCMA go a long way in reducing the medical errors that means a significant cost savings on the admin side.

Interoperability Standards – CIO must plan to adopt all softwares that comply with interoperability standards such as HL7, DICOM, X12 etc. CIO must force the vendors to comply or else be prepared to  face information silos. Even the home-grown software should be made compliant to interoperability standards. I cannot underscore the importance of this. I have seen massive IT transformation
projects fail due to low investment in this area.

Hardware – The hardware requirement is governed by the software portfolio and the IT Roadmap. Usually the high end servers are required for Imaging and real-time EMR. Large disc space is required if the hospital decides to keep the past medical records on the hard disc for many years. The best policy is to shift the records older than 1 year to tape drives and allow a time delay for retrieval on For EMR with CPOE and CDSS capability the load on the server goes up significantly because every click has to be sent back to the server for processing. CIO should factor a very high end server for such an EMR.

Client hardware has to be planned as per the data input and retrieval needs. Stationary staff should be given desktops. Mobile staff should be given laptops or Tablets. Touch screen tablets are a great way to increase adoption of EMR. However it lays additional pressure on the cost of EMR implementation because the clinical templates have to be built with clickable form elements such as
check-boxes, radio-buttons and drop-downs.
The latest addition is smart phones to the portfolio. CIO can consider smart phones for consultants on the move. It’s a great tool to enhance productivity but it also has its own security challenges. There are real risks of breach of data privacy due to loss of phone or impersonation.

Network —LAN/WAN Intranet, Internet and cloud etc. must be planned in advance in the IT Roadmap as per the current load and business growth as per vision. External data centre creates special needs, such that the network has to be fail-proof. MPLS private cloud offers a good choice here. Network should be planned at the hospital planning stage itself. It is expensive to slit open the walls to put network wires and ports that had not been planned earlier. Also Wi-Fi cant be placed everywhere to cover lack of planned wires. In a brown-field hospital a CIO must keep the network cabinets locked but also must open the network cabinets regularly to monitor the health of the network cables, routers, switches and racks. Housekeeping loves to use any available space as store or garbage dump!

Data Centre—Data centre can be located in-house with heavy capex or it could be outsourced with a combination of capex and opex or completely hosted on a cloud as an opex. The CIO must decide the model based on scalability and security requirements. In many ways the data centre drives the LAN/WAN network decisions. The challenge of the CIO is to get the best out of it without becoming a captive to the model.

Backup and Disaster recovery strategy —CIO must classify the servers into critical and non-critical. Backup and disaster recovery strategy should be based on criticality of the server. I have seen most of the hospitals underplay the importance of back-up and disaster recovery. This is like term insurance policy. It’s said that disaster doesn’t need someone’s permission to strike!

Services and SLA —Centralised services teams for customer complaint Triage, Level 1, 2 and 3 support with very tight SLAs need to be setup. The CIO must build a governance structure to monitor the SLAs on a weekly, monthly and quarterly level. This could be in-house teams or outsourced. Outsourcing has benefits over in-house because the CIO’s hands are freed-up for strategy and growth of the organisation.

Change management —Large Healthcare-IT projects like HIS/EMR implementation should never be treated as an IT project. The implementation starts failing the day it becomes an IT project. The team doing the implementation should have predominantly healthcare skills with some IT experience not vice versa. The leader of the implementation project should be a Physician Executive with seasoning in IT and Management. These are catalysts for change management. The CxO team of the hospital should use this as an opportunity to drive people, process and technology improvements across the enterprise. The critical success factor is adoption of the Healthcare-IT system.

Dr Pankaj Gupta, BDS, PGDCA, EMBA (IIMB), is an e-health business executive in New Delhi, India. He is a Partner with Taurus Glocal Consulting, and can be contacted at ​

Dr Pankaj Gupta,
Partner, Taurus Glocal Consulting