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D I G I TA L

H E A LT H

ment has been unprecedented, but it has not been matched by an equivalent ability to apply that knowledge in practice. According to the report, preventable medical errors re- portedly cause more deaths than each of the following on their own: car accidents, breast cancer or AIDS. Computer-assisted diagnosis and therapy is indeed a way to make all the relevant knowledge, information and evi- dence available at the point of care.

What might the hospital of the future look like? Comyn: The “hospital of the future” is set to achieve all the exciting and proven possibili- ties that ICT can offer. First, it will look much friendlier. A lot of cables and instrumenta- tion will disappear, and the patient will be monitored by miniaturized sensors commu- nicating wirelessly with computer systems. Physicians will instantly have access to analy- ses of the patient’s status. Second, the hospi- tal without walls will not be restricted in its service either by its geographical location or its physical infrastructure. Rather, it will be well connected — via ICT networks — to other hospitals, clinics, primary health cen- ters, patients in care centers and independ- ent citizens. Cross-border collaboration be- tween hospitals, supported by ICT, will be common. A major outcome will be better use of scarce resources and the availability and accessibility of better-quality care. Pa- tients’ movement and mobility throughout Europe will also be enhanced.

Will there be a common European health card containing information for emergency situations — for example, a person’s blood group or possible allergic reactions to specific medications? Or will there possibly even be a card con- taining a complete patient file? Comyn: The European health insurance card was introduced on June 1, 2004, and Europe wants to start introducing an electronic ver- sion of the card from 2008 on. Nevertheless, there are currently no concrete plans for a single European health card because the Eu- ropean Union’s member states are them- selves responsible for providing their own h e a l t h c a r e s y s t e m s . I n t e r v i e w c o n d u c t e d b y U l r i k e Z e c h b a u e r .

The opinions expressed here are Dr. Comyn’s own and do not necessarily reflect the official viewpoint of the European Commission.

  • Suzhou Municipal Hospital

High-Tech Helps a Million Patients

Suzhou Municipal Hospital is an example of how investment in advanced technology can pay off for hospitals in China.

s he lobby of the municipal hospital in the o u t h e r n C h i n e s e c i t y o f S u z h o u r e s e m - T bles a train station. The flow of people com- ing through the revolving doors never seems to stop, and there are long lines at the recep- tion desks, where patients try to make ap- pointments, pay their bills or pick up their pre- scriptions. And because all the plastic seats in the lobby are occupied, some patients are sit- ting on the floor. Suzhou Municipal Hospital (SMH) provides treatment to one million out- patients every year, with an additional 28,000 people cared for in the hospital’s various wards. The hospital is also the scene of 9,000 births each year.

Such huge numbers are normal in China, but even larger than the number of patients treated at SMH is the amount of documents, bills, X-ray images, lab results, diagnoses and

prescriptions generated there. “Our X-ray archive alone takes up several rooms,” says the hospital’s chief radiologist, Prof. Xu Jian- ming. “So you can imagine how long it some- times takes us to locate a certain file.”

Those with big problems also need to have a great vision, which is why SMH was one of the first Chinese hospitals to enter the digital age. “Resources at Chinese hospitals are very limited,” says Prof. Yu Kangmin, who served as the director of SMH for more than 20 years. “That’s why it’s so important for us to utilize modern technology in order to save time and money.” Considering this, the hospital in- vested 1.5 million euros in digitizing its image management system. At the heart of the new system is the Sienet Sky image-archiving and communication unit from Siemens, which en- ables all images generated by X-ray machines,

computer tomographs and magnetic reso- nance devices to be stored, processed and made available to all hospital stations. The system, which has been in operation since June 2004, has not only made doctors’ work easier and reduced patient waiting times; it has also proved to be a good investment.

From Four Hours to Two Minutes. In- creased efficiency has generated huge sav- ings. “It used to take around four hours before an X-ray print was sent to a doctor for diag- nosis,” says Xu. “Now it takes two minutes.” As a result, the number of daily X-ray examina- tions has doubled from 150 to 300 and in- come at the radiology department has more than tripled. That’s because Chinese hospital- fee guidelines allow clinics to raise their fees if they utilize improved technologies that offer more rapid service. An X-ray photo used to cost a fee of the equivalent of 2.70 euros; today it costs 8.00 euros. SMH is also saving 150,000 euros a year on photographic materials, since images are only archived digitally at the hos- pital, although patients can request a print.

This financial success could lead to a breakthrough for digitization in China, Yu hopes. In 1999 he installed one of China’s first hospital data processing systems at SMH for 300,000 euros. The investment paid for it- self after just one year, thus laying the finan- cial foundation for procuring Sienet. “Sienet is

Treating twice as many patients more efficiently. Prof. Yu Kangmin (above, at right), Han Wenguang and Prof. Xu Jianming (below, at right) are delighted that digitiza- tion has brought so many benefits

  • for example, in the children’s

clinic (at left).

paying for itself even more quickly than we anticipated,” says Yu. “It will take only two years to recoup our investment, which means we can use the profits in 2006 to further im- prove our technology.” Although Yu reached retirement age last year, he will continue to support the digital development he launched. The hospital has asked him to stay on as Hon- orary President with special responsibility for technical modernization.

Sienet was implemented in two stages. Between December 2002 and August 2003, the radiology department was networked, and the individual stations were connected to the network in a process that lasted until June 2004. All the interfaces are in Chinese, and the registration program originally installed by a local supplier was integrated by Siemens into Sienet. The system processes 70,000 im- ages a year and can be expanded as needed.

It will take some time before SMH be- comes a true digital clinic in which all processes are integrated. Nonetheless, the original vision is no longer a dream. It’s a

work in progress. Since the hospital intro- duced the system, dozens of delegations from all over China have come to visit SMH and learn about Sienet. “One of Siemens’ big advantages is that it not only develops and sells software but also produces many differ- ent types of medical equipment,” says Han Wenguang, a 28-year-old radiologist who is system administrator for Sienet. “That means Siemens knows exactly how workflows can be networked.” It took Han only two weeks to set up the program with the help of two Siemens employees and then become ac- quainted with it. “Sienet is very user-friendly,” he says. “It generally takes our doctors only three or four days to learn how to use it.”

Han now manages the system completely on his own. Siemens has already designated SMH as a Sienet reference facility in honor of the hospital’s successful installation and uti- lization of the system. Other medical facilities are now following SMH’s example. The uni- versity hospital in Guangxi province, for ex- ample, is installing Sienet Sky. And Deng Li, Siemens’ project manager for Sienet in China, is already thinking ahead to the end of the year, when the Chinese-language version of a larger Sienet platform, Sienet Cosmos, will be completed. “There’s huge demand for this type of system,” says Deng, “and we can now p r o v e t h a t S i e m e n s o f f e r s e x a c t l y t h e r i g h t s o - B e r n h a r d B a r t s c h lution ”

Pictures of the Future | Fall 2005

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