A St. Louis-based healthcare system last week launched an information system integration project that ultimately could link a diverse inventory of computer software and hardware at its 15 hospitals in Missouri and Illinois.
An initial investment of staff and money "in excess of $10 million" will tie together the information systems of two groups of three hospitals each in metropolitan St. Louis, said David Weiss, vice president of information systems for BJC Health System.
The project is a cooperative venturewith IBM's Integrated Systems Solution Corp., Eastman Kodak Co., Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. During the development, the alliance members will supply more than 50 on-site staffers including information systems planners, project executives, system designers and clinicians.
Also in the three-year initial phase, the project will link up a number of physician homes and offices to test the benefit against the cost of connection, Mr. Weiss said. The pilot project will help executives decide on the most effective ways to bring BJC's 5,385 affiliated physicians into the communications network-or even whether it's worth the cost, he said.
The same cost/benefit calculations will decide whether and how the system's nine other hospitals and affiliated medical buildings will be added to the high-speed telecommunications network, a BJC spokeswoman said.
Eight hospitals are within a 20-mile radius of central St. Louis, but the system stretches about 180 miles northwest to Chillicothe, Mo., and about 80 miles east to Flora, Ill. (See map).
The BJC system is a merger of three predecessor healthcare systems, each bringing its own installed base of computerization. The network venture's IBM unit will seek to integrate clinical and patient information systems of TDS Healthcare Systems Corp., Shared Medical Systems Corp. and GTE Health Systems, as well as a number of proprietary computer systems, Mr. Weiss said.
In addition, an existing base of radiology systems will be incorporated into Kodak's task of developing an infrastructure to transmit and store digitized diagnostic images and display them on high-resolution computers.
Southwestern Bell will develop the fiber-optic network capable of transmitting voice, video, graphics and data simultaneously over the same lines. The company said the network will rely heavily on miles of fiber-optic cable that it already has in place in the St. Louis area.
The system's two flagship facilities, Barnes Hospital and Jewish Hospital, will be linked to each other and to Barnes West County Hospital in one pilot grouping. The other will connect Christian Hospital Northeast and Northwest in north suburban St. Louis and Alton (Ill.) Memorial Hospital.
The BJC spokeswoman said the system will serve as a "laboratory" for the technology alliance to create a state-of-the-art regional information network.
IBM, Kodak and Southwestern Bell plan to use what they learn at BJC to introduce products to healthcare systems around the country, she said. The system envisioned by the alliance is intended to avoid the expense and organizational disruption of converting to one common information system. Instead, it will function as a "blanket" of invisible software and telecommunications technology that's laid over the existing base.
The impact of the venture will be in pulling patient records together from all the systems "without having to tear apart all the systems that exist there today," Mr. Weiss said. The ISSC unit of IBM will use client/server technology to create a master patient index and clinical data repository that can locate and gather data wherever it's entered or stored within the information network.
The venture also will call on Washington University's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, which has done substantial research on application of computers to medical care. The Institute and Kodak have combined in efforts to develop industry standards for image storage and transmission, according to BJC.
Besides the 15 hospital sites, BJC includes 22 outpatient/urgent-care centers, seven nursing facilities and one retirement center.