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Smarter Healthcare Management


One of the bright spots in the battle to control the rising costs of healthcare has been electronic medical records or EMR. Integrating, analyzing and sharing patient information and clinical knowledge can dramatically improve quality of care and patient safety and cut costs.

IBM has recently taken the concept of connected health to an entirely new level. The proving ground is the Guangdong Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in south China, one of the largest in the world. Guangdong still offers traditional Chinese herbal and acupuncture treatments alongside its state-of-the-art endoscopic surgery, cardiac units and complete array of Western medical practices.

But now it has something few hospitals in the world have: tools that can reach down deep into a vast pool of medical records and help doctors uncover trends and new knowledge about disease treatments. It is the latest outgrowth of IBM’s nearly seventy years of collaboration and product innovation in the world of medicine and healthcare. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Since the 1980s, the cost of everything from a simple tonsillectomy to a life-saving heart bypass operation has far outpaced the overall rate of inflation, most dramatically in the United States and to a lesser but still worrisome level in most major countries. Whether the healthcare system is public or private, or a combination, every country strives for better care at less cost. And information is key to higher quality and lower costs.

Working with IBM, the Guangdong Hospital has installed a first-of-a-kind tool called CHAS (Clinical and Health Records Analytics and Sharing). CHAS consolidates medical data from multiple systems, including both Western and Chinese traditional medicine, and then applies language processing algorithms—developed by the IBM China Research Laboratory—to bridge the semantic gap that separates Chinese and Western medicine.

This generates two major benefits.

First, individual patient records can be transferred and accessed anywhere in the Guangdong medical community. It can eliminate redundant testing and procedures when patients visit different branches of the hospital system. And it streamlines reporting and data analysis.

Second, the new system provides a platform for helping medical staff make better treatment decisions. Using anonymous record screening techniques, researchers and clinicians can analyze both traditional Chinese medicine and Western medical data to help determine the best treatment for a condition or illness.

The power of this East-meets-West analytics is just beginning to be explored. “As more and more medical data becomes available through electronic medical records and interoperable systems, there is a real opportunity for doctors and clinicians to use the information in new ways for improved patient care,” says Lu Yu Bo, president of Guangdong Hospital system.

“In the United States and worldwide, IBM has unparalleled resources and talent working on innovative means of delivering smarter healthcare solutions and services,” says Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM’s Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry.

In Dubai and the surrounding Gulf states, IBM ® Global Business Services has helped install an extensive electronic medical records system. Similar projects are helping improve the quality and timely delivery of healthcare in Bangkok.

In Spain, IBM helped install a comprehensive SAP-based enterprise logistics system to help the eight hospitals of the Institut Català de la Salut in Catalonia unify patient information in a single system, while dramatically reducing procurement costs. In Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, IBM installed an electronic healthcare system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to track individual patient medications to help improve patient safety and patient care.

And in Singapore, IBM is helping improve healthcare by standardizing and simplifying human resources records and procedures for the 23,000 people who work at SingHealth’s three major hospitals and 14 specialty centers and clinics.

As the battle for higher-quality care at lower costs continues, industry experts expect to see more innovations on the digital front. Developing clinical domain expertise, administrative systems, security, large-scale integrations, pharmaceutical research and development, websites and portals for the individual patient—“All of it,” says Pelino, “has to do with levels of interoperability and big data. This is an area where we have a rich history in creating solutions and value, and a very bright future.”