Hospitals around the globe are racing to digitalise various aspects of their operations – from clinical to administrative tasks – and Vietnam’s Vinmec Ha Long International Hospital (VHLIH) is no exception.
From health information systems (HIS), which handle the hospital’s operational activities, online diagnostic imaging systems, to online medical incidents and adverse drug events reporting portals, VHLIH has grown its digital and IT infrastructure over the years.
With a wide range of digital solutions now available in the market, how do hospitals such as VHLIH decide on which ones work best for them?
According to The Anh Vu of the hospital’s Quality Management department, some key considerations include the solution’s impact on hospital operations and meeting employee needs, and value for money in terms of weighing its benefits against investment costs.
Another key point is whether current resources are sufficient to implement the solutions. Besides buying solutions off-shelf, the hospital has also developed some IT systems in-house, such as a statistics reporting system, a mobile app for patients (My Vinmec) and an internal staff forum.
“The hospital has a Department of Information Technology with a Chief Information Officer. His team works with doctors, nurses, sales, operations and support teams to determine what the internal needs are,” said Vu. “From there, evaluation and plan selection is done based on the actual ability of the team and IT resources. That is the basis for submissions to the hospital’s Board of Directors to consider and decide whether to design the applications in-house or hire a third party to do it.”
The two sides to digital
Vu has observed how these digital solutions have helped improve efficiency and reduce manual labour needed in the hospital’s service processes.
“There are reduced errors compared to traditional record-writing methods – this reduced risk means increased safety at the hospital,” Vu said. “We save on cost of printing documents, forms, and storage, and there is lesser time spent to search for old hardcopy records.”
“This speeds up service delivery to customers, helping to increase customer satisfaction.”
As the next steps in its digital journey, the hospital is looking to comprehensively digitise all medical records, and adopt digital or electronic signatures.
However, the journey is not an easy one. Hospitals do have to overcome some challenges in ensuring a smooth incorporation of digital in their operations.
“It is not easy to change employees’ habits, especially habits that have been formed for many years, so they often show some resistance in the early stages of implementation,” said Vu. “Also, the group of older employees often face certain limitations when accessing new technology.” Regular communications and training will be needed to smooth the transition.
In addition, the increased use of digital means a higher risk of cyberattacks or equipment failure that would have a huge impact on hospital operations and patient care. With patient data, treatment plans and medical records all stored digitally, an IT downtime where such information cannot be accessed would greatly impact care continuity and patient safety.
Preparedness against unplanned IT downtime
Vu shared that for VHLIH, the IT systems and devices are protected by anti-virus software and security firewalls, as well as staff and patient access control. Maintenance is scheduled at night or on weekends or public holidays, when users are less active, to minimise the potential impact of downtime.
The hospital conducts training on Information Security for all new employees, and also annual refresher sessions for existing staff, which cover data protection guidelines, awareness of possible attacks via email or infected USB devices, and so on. Employees are required to install strong passwords, and are restricted from using social networks, external email accounts (such as Gmail) or messaging applications (Viber, Messengers etc) on internal devices to minimise the threat of viruses and cyberattacks getting through.
However, in the case cyberattacks do occur, or downtime last longer than expected, hospitals do need to have backup solutions prepared.
To mitigate the risk of internet outage, Vu shared that VHLIH rents internet service from two separate providers, so there will be a backup connection if one provider fails.
If there are issues with the software systems, the hospital’s plan B is falling back on the LAN system, which still allows users within the organisation to communicate and exchange information.
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This ensures that hospital operations can continue, even if systems or networks are done. Also, in-built device security provides strong protection for sensitive or confidential information.
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