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Fully digital hospitals can improve efficiency, customer service, hospital CEO says

Rueben Devlin, CEO of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, says the hospital focused on improving communications, bringing technologies together.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

LAS VEGAS – Rueben Devlin, CEO of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, sees full digitization as the future of physician efficiency and patient experience.

In seeking to fully digitize Humber River, the hospital focused on improving communications, bringing disparate technologies together into one streamlined package. Monitors on the outside of patient rooms are just the tip of the iceberg.

"It tells people coming to that room what's going on – if there are infection control problems, any special precautions that need to be made," said Devlin. "If a nurse or physician is in the room, that will show up on the monitor as well."

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All nurses and physicians are also assigned "rugged PDAs," smartphones that can take pictures, provide code call applications and scan bar codes.

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Devlin said the hospital recently implemented use of real-time locating systems. The RTLS devices are doled out to clinicians and patients alike, not only ensuring that nobody gets lost, but that hospital staff can more efficiently perform their jobs.

"(Visitors) can track their family member in the waiting room on the screen," said Devlin. "That solves their problem of constantly going back to the desk to check where they are."

A patient portal at Humber further advances efficiencies in communication, he said. The patient portal "allows patients to access their own information (and) empowers physicians to access information off-site if they're allowed to." Devlin asserted that this has decreased registration load. Online billing is a component of the patient portal, and operates within a secure firewall.

Since implementing full digitization in October 2015, the hospital has seen an increase in safety, with a higher focus on care, said Devlin.

Communications aren't the only ways in which technology has changed the landscape. Wireless addressable light switches, chromatic glass windows controlled by the patient, and 100 percent fresh air with temperature control has heralded a 40.8 percent decrease in energy usage.

Automating the little things helps, too – as in the case of garbage.

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"Pneumatic garbage chutes … deliver the materials right to shipping and receiving," said Devlin. "That goes on a truck. That's quite helpful; none of the dirty material needs to be dragged through the hospital."

Devlin said part of the hospital's success in innovation is due to gleaning a wide swath of ideas from different hospitals, and in keeping track of what non-health entities are doing to become more technologically current.

"You need to look at other industries," he said. "A big supporter of ours is someone who owns a lot of McDonald's. … They're very efficient. They only walk three to four steps to get to everything they need within their facility. We needed to look at other industries who were doing a good job."

The next steps for the hospital include creating a center of excellence, and implementing black box technology in operating rooms, similar to what's found on an airplane – in case "something untoward happens."

Twitter: @JELagasse