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North America’s First All Digital Hospital Is Coming To Toronto
April 16, 2013
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It's probably fair to say most people don't really like hospitals, especially if you're a patient.

Well, a new facility being built in Toronto is looking to improve the experience, as North America's first fully digital hospital.

It's called The Humber River Hospital and the plan is to open it in the fall of 2015.

The hospital will have more than 650 rooms, 80% of which will be single bed with a private washroom and shower. The rooms will also have a special alcove for a family member to stay overnight and a workspace with access to the internet.

Patients will be able to control the room temperature and the lighting, and read their medical charts on a monitor by their bed - including test results, images and a schedule of upcoming exams.

Plus, instead of a call bell, patients can communicate directly with their nurse through a video chat or instant messaging. They can do the same to stay in touch with family and friends.

And when nurses take a patients' blood pressure and other vital signs, they won't have to write it down. Everything will automatically go to the electronic chart.

Barb Collins, the hospital's chief operating officer told CBC News, that cutting down on "sneaker time" was a top priority.

That's the amount of time nurses and doctors spend walking to different parts of the hospital to deliver care.

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Under the new system, nurses will be able to order blood-work with a small device that sends out a message and confirms it's been received.

Officials also believe the new system will reduce critical errors, as patients will wear wristbands a barcode that will be scanned to confirm the get the right medication.

It will also record who gave the patient the medication and when - all of which will show up on the patient's digital chart.

"The care should be faster, it should be more accurate, and it should allow a better link between that medical record and the practitioners caring for that patient," Collins said.

And when someone arrives at the hospital for surgery, they'll use a kiosk - similar to ones found in airports - to "check-in".

"Their patient record will be automatically updated and the registration desk, laboratory and surgery teams will know they have arrived," according to Collins. "Essentially, it will be 'one-stop' information sharing and collection."

As well, supplies such as medicine, bed sheets, and food will be sent around the hospital through a series of chutes and automated vehicles.

Officials say there will be 100% fresh air circulation, and they expect to use 40 per cent less energy each year compared to an average hospital.

Humber River based a lot of its plans on Akershus University Hospital in Oslo, Norway, which has been fully digital since 2008.

As things have become more efficient there, the hospital in Oslo says it has cut the number of days patients spend in the hospital from about 5 to 3 and a half.

Of course, technology isn't perfect.

Three different times, the entire system in the Oslo hospital crashed for several hours, knocking out all internet phone communication and patient medical records.

The hospital had to divert ambulances, call in extra staff, switch to regular cellphones and print out patient records on paper.

Canada has been working to digitize health care for ten years, but we trail countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand.

It's a similar story in the U.S., where the White House has set aside $14 billion to switch to digital, but 80% of hospitals don't meet the eligibility criteria.

Both Canada and the U.S. lag behind , as this graphic from the Commonwealth Fund shows.

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Ashish Jha is a professor in the health policy and management department at Harvard University's School of Public Health.

He says part of the problem is many hospitals are using digital technology to get better at billing or coding, rather than helping patients.

Jha said if technology was used more to identify and track infections or medication errors, it can have a big impact.

"The unfortunate part is, to date, we haven't seen a lot of evidence that people are applying technology to these problems," Jha said.

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