EHM speaks to Brad Blake, Director of IT at Boston Medical Center, about data management, security and IT operations at the hospital.
“We will persist in implementing wireless solutions to meet the ever growing demands of our mobile workforce”
-Brad Blake of Boston Medical Center
Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, academic medical center with a focus on community-based care and prides itself on never turning away a patient. In order to provide a consistently accessible health service the hospital’s employees need a reliable and wide range of IT applications to give patients the best possible care. “We’ve been working diligently for the past few years to computerize the majority of both our clinical and operational processes,” explains Brad Blake, Director of IT. “The push to automation has allowed us to improve on existing processes and provide better patient care, as well as allowed us to decrease operating costs.”
As Director of IT, Blake has responsibility for Boston Medical Center’s entire IT and telephony infrastructure and as such is responsible for overall operations, security, new projects and driving technical strategy. With this comes a huge challenge: to ensure that the entire infrastructure meets the clinicians demand. “We have an extremely bright and talented pool of clinicians here at the hospital and they are constantly coming up with new ideas.” Meeting with the clinicians and vetting out these new ideas is an important role, and Blake ensures that everyone in the IT department is included in this. “Since we are the main teaching hospital for Boston University School of Medicine we have to be on the cutting edge because we train the doctors of tomorrow,” says Blake. “Balancing the drive for new solutions and technologies, while ensuring a stable and robust environment has been the key to our success.”
Blake goes on to explain that as a best of breed shop he purchases the best products to meet the needs of the end users. It is because of this practice that Boston Medical Center uses several systems from a variety of vendors. “This allows for the sharing of information across most of our systems so that the data is where it needs to be in order for clinicians to efficiently and effectively access it without having to log out and log in to other applications.”
Blake and his team are currently managing over 300TB across the enterprise, utilizing a variety of EMC storage platforms. “We have built a robust storage infrastructure based around information lifecycle management, which is built on the simple fact that the older the data get the less relevant it is,” says Blake. This infrastructure allows Blake to take advantage of four levels of storage. These levels range from the high-end and fastest Symmetrix SAN, all the way through to the EMC Centerra platform that allows him to take advantage of ‘write once read many’ technologies to manage ever-growing data retention costs. “Being in a hospital we have several regulatory requirements to keep hospital data for specified time ranges. This solution has allowed us to stay on top of regulations while driving down the cost of storing data.”
There is a continued trend across the healthcare industry to push towards a more mobile workforce and ensure end users are well informed on the topics they need information on. It’s all about getting the right information to the right person at the right time. “We have been fielding a lot more calls for people looking to connect their personal devices to our wireless network,” explains Blake. “One solution we provide is free public Internet access – this allows our end users or patients and visitors to access the internet, but keeps this traffic separate from our internal wireless network.”
Blake goes on to say that technologies such as the iPhone and Blackberry are penetrating the market more and more and that the use cases that both clinicians and vendors come up with are “extraordinary”. “I still believe that the vendors have a long way to go to penetrate this market, which will require the re-development of their applications geared towards tablets or handhelds.”
When USB drives first started penetrating the consumer market, Blake was concerned about data loss and took measures to block USB drives from being used. He quickly learned that the use of this technology was prevalent, not only in his hospital, but in most others. Clinicians would find that patients would walk in to their appointment with a USB drive or CDROM that contained their health information, and whether it was a CatScan, MRI or X-ray, it was imperative that end users had access to this information. “Personally, I had an MRI this past year and when I walked out of my doctor’s office he handed me a CDROM that had my entire MRI on it so that I could bring that back to my primary physician,” says Blake. “It is this type of workflow that now has us investigating secure, encrypted and fingerprint USB drives to ensure we have some level of protection if someone were to lose their USB drive.”
The IT department at Boston Medical Center is continually focused on finding solutions that will add value, reduce costs and reduce complexity in the environment. Blake explains that he is currently looking at several initiatives to implement in the coming years, which may bring together some of the more disparate systems onto common platforms: “The clinicians need for access to critical patient data is always at the forefront of anything the IT department produces.”
By continuing to refine business continuity plans, increasing uptime of systems by introducing high availability solutions to existing systems and working with vendors to minimize the downtime required for upgrades and enhancements to the systems, Blake hopes to continually improve IT infrastructure at Boston Medical Center. “We will persist in implementing wireless solutions to meet the ever growing demands of our mobile workforce and will always have a sharp focus on security across everything we do,” concludes Blake.
In Forrester’s Global Information Management Services Forecast: 2007 to 2012 report, Tim Sheedy, believes that business intelligence services dominate a $7.3 billion market. The report says that information management solutions are moving to the center of IT strategies as a way of driving IT and business alignment and delivering real and visible value to the business. The global information services market will grow from $7.9 billion to $10.9 billion in 2012 with BI and business performance solutions dominating the spend, although the information strategy segment will see the fastest growth throughout the forecast period.