George Washington University Hospital in Washington physically will relocate only yards away to a new building on July 23. But the move to the new $96 million wireless facility across the street will take it light years away in technology.
Hospital administrators also hope the hospital will leave its red ink behind in the building it has called home since 1948. The hospital's owner, for-profit Universal Health Services, King of Prussia, Pa., bought the hospital in 1997, but two years later started losing money on it. In 1997 alone, 127 physicians left the troubled facility.
The new glass-paned, 371-bed facility sits on top of a former triangular parking lot abutting a busy circular intersection in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Even before construction was completed, the sight of the new building helped GWU shake its image, said Marti Harris, the hospital's spokeswoman.
"It's a visual reminder that we're building a 21st century facility," Harris said. "People continue to get excited about practicing medicine there and being a patient there."
The hospital has shown consistent monthly profits since January, the first time it has been in the black since 1999. GWU's recruitment drive already has shown a turnaround. Despite a national nursing shortage, a six-week direct mail and telemarketing campaign drew 1,700 nurse applicants this spring. The hospital has hired 130. A direct mail campaign to 8,000 area physicians late last month already has netted 181 responses. The hospital plans to increase its medical staff to 1,000 from 825 by the day it moves.
"This is the kind of place that would attract people," said Richard Wade, spokesman for the American Hospital Association.
Wireless technology is nothing new, but the hospital industry has been slow to change, Wade said. A recent AHA survey showed less than 10% of the nation's hospitals have computerized physician order entry for prescriptions. Only 14% can review radiology images digitally. Only 6% have the ability to consult with other providers within the same system electronically.
The state-of-the-art Washington hospital combines new and sophisticated technology and provides an example to other hospitals that want to improve their technology over the next five years, Wade said.
"This is the model for the future," he said.
That is what Universal planned in 1997 when it bought 80% of GWU.
"(The hospital) is definitely a hallmark in the company," said Linda Reino, Universal's chief information officer.
This is the eighth facility Universal has outfitted with wireless technology. Currently, most of the hospitals have laptops and handcarts that medical staff use to download and transfer medical records, and Universal is piloting hand-held palm devices at Aiken (S.C.) Regional Medical Centers. GWU, however, will bring the different technologies together, Reino said.
"The whole information network is by far the most sophisticated information we own," Reino said.
The technology doesn't come cheaply-Universal expects to spend at least $45 million for technology on top of the facility costs. But the wireless system is expected to cut costs by allowing physicians to make decisions faster, which administrators hope will save time and cut lengths of stay, said Lisa Saisselin, the hospital's director of marketing and business development.
"In the end, there is a significant benefit," she said.
If laid out end to end, the electrical wiring in the 400,000-square-foot facility would spread 265 miles. Physicians will be able to retrieve records or order tests through hand-held personal digital assistants. Nurses can check files via laptops near patient rooms. Instead of sending someone to the library, radiologists can call up film digitally.
The new hospital also will make use of updated medical devices. When a cardiac patient walks by, medical staff can monitor information by looking at a portable window display unit that looks like a cell phone worn around the patient's neck. And instead of using pagers or call stations, medical staff will be summoned by cell phone.
The brick-and-mortar aspect of the hospital has been updated, too. Patient rooms are in clusters of four around nursing stations for more concentrated care. Medical staff will send medication and blood samples to other departments via pneumatic tubes. For an additional $150 per night, patients can upgrade from their rooms to suites with upscale furniture and gourmet meals. Visitors will be able to eat at a ground-floor food court-featuring well-known fast food establishments and accessible to neighborhood diners.
The new facility also will address the hospital's relationship with the executive branch of the government. GWU, which cared for Ronald Reagan when he was shot by John Hinckley Jr. and for Vice President Dick Cheney when he suffered heart problems, always has had a Secret Service agent on hand when the president is in town. The new facility will allow the hospital to shut down a secure area for any future high-level patients from the administration.
With the physical changes already in place, GWU now is focusing its efforts on teaching medical staff how to use the new system-and how it will change their relationships with each other. Physicians will have to download some information from the system themselves instead of relying on ward clerks, said Bernard Horak, interim chairman of the hospital's department of health services management and leadership.
The hospital will phase in the system by department and try to learn from any mistakes along the way, he said. It will hold a series of orientation meetings for both doctors and nurses this month to let them see the technology up front and to answer questions.
Horak helped 14 military hospitals transfer to computer inputting systems when he served at the Department of Defense. "The same principles apply," Horak said. "Assuage their fears, let them know how it works and show them the benefits."