National Health IT Week is an event that unites industry, researchers, health systems and government agencies to promote the use of technology in healthcare. While many facets of Health IT will be highlighted over the course of National Health IT Week, I believe advancements around the digitization of the hospital are especially exciting. This is an area that continues to demonstrate promise for improving care and lowering costs.
What is the digital hospital?
As the name implies, the vision of a digital hospital involves utilizing digital technology to transform patient and clinician experience within a hospital environment. This might include everything from admission, monitoring, and patient education, to diagnostics and procedures, to meals and entertainment. Building upon the already-existing electronic medical record (EMR) system can enhance data flows for better decision making, which will in turn yield better outcomes. A digital hospital could include any of the following features: patient portals and self-check-in services, patient engagement and entertainment systems, connected medical devices that enable remote monitoring and nursing documentation, Virtual Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and specialty telehealth services, or augmented reality and more in the OR. A Digital Hospital could even extend to a clinic or patient home.
Are digital hospitals worth the investment?
For much of Health IT, evidence and rigorous research is limited, as much of this technology is still in the early stages of adoption. More and more, though, studies are being conducted to confirm the clinical and economic impacts of these technologies. Here are a few examples of studies that have examined features of the digital hospital, and have identified either clinical or cost benefits:
- Virtual ICU: A multi-site observational trial (15 ICUs in 32 hospitals from 19 U.S. healthcare systems) demonstrated a significant improvement in mortality (HR=0.74) and shorter length of stay (decrease of 20%) for the patients who received care via virtual ICUs compared to patients who received care as usual.
- Hospital at Home Intervention: A multicenter study that evaluated care provided through a Hospital at Home intervention versus usual acute hospital care showed significant cost savings for patients who received the Hospital at Home intervention ($7480 for usual care vs. $5081 for intervention).
- Predictive Analytics to Reduce Hospital Readmissions: A partnership between a large health system, Intel, and Cloudera that used socioeconomic data and EMR data to identify which patients were likely to be readmitted was associated with a reduction of 6,000 occurrences of readmissions, and avoided $4 million in potential Medicare penalties.
These examples highlight the potential of the digital hospital to improve care, lower costs, and deliver care more efficiently to the patient.
Future of the digital hospital
National Health IT Week is an important forum through which findings such as these can be promoted, and also to bring together the many partners (e.g., industry, hospitals) that are required to take the digital hospital from vision to reality.
While I’ve observed substantial variation among health systems across the U.S. in levels of adoption of the digital hospital, the move towards this vision is likely to accelerate as reimbursement increasingly becomes tied to outcomes, as hospitals and health systems continue to consolidate, and as patients come to expect care and services to be delivered efficiently and conveniently.
 Lilly, C. M., et al. (2014). "A multicenter study of ICU telemedicine reengineering of adult critical care." Chest 145(3): 500-507.
 Frick, K. D., et al. (2009). "Substitutive Hospital at Home for older persons: effects on costs." Am J Manag Care 15(1): 49-56.
 “Intel and Cloudera Use Predictive Analytics to Help a Large Hospital Group Reduce Readmission Rates.” https://www.cloudera.com/content/dam/cloudera/Resources/PDF/casestudy/intel-predictive-analysis-hospital-readmission.pdf.