Ensuring the optimum use of resources while providing data and systems to meet the needs of clinical physicians is what Simon Richardson sees as his main task.
Richardson is CIO with the Victoria branch of health care provider St Vincent's. The hospital is part of the national Catholic organisation which also provides social services to at risk and homeless people. However, this means Richardson has access to IT peers because the organisation also employs a national CIO and CIOs in New South Wales and Queensland.
"We get together to work through plans and strategy," he said.
"The wealth of knowledge that we have across our group is brilliant and the ability to bounce ideas off people means that someone has identified a problem or solved an issue."
When it comes to IT governance, Richardson also works with a CFO and two boards.
"Having a good working relationship with the CFO is imperative to get anything across the line," he said.
While he has been in the health industry for 25 years, Richardson is not surprised with the rate of changes in technology. He is a relative newcomer to St Vincent's, having arrived in December 2012 from Mercy Health where he was IT director.
"There has been a steady growth of computing capabilities over the years but mobility has been the big change, mainly through the consumerisation of technology," Richardson said.
"This has shifted our historic planning phases to accommodate the sheer computing power that people carry around in their pockets."
According to Richardson, the challenge lies not in providing devices but common tools across all different devices.
"We've got technology that can go a long way to help that. It's less about providing people with equipment these days but being able to securely deliver data to them," he said.
For example, St Vincent's in Melbourne rolled out Quick Connect, a thin client quick access terminal service, in April 2013.
Based on the Cisco unified computing system, Quick Connect means that multiple staff can access records at the same time across the hospital's multiple sites.
"We've got 600 of these devices which allow a clinical to swipe in with a proximity card," he said. "We use Microsoft terminal services in the back end and some software developed by the Centre for Health Innovation to speed up the login process."
Quick Connect was rolled out because clinicians were finding it took too long to log on to the computer.
"There were shared logons and people were just updating what they had to. Or they were writing paper notes and handing it to someone else to type at the end of the day," Richardson said.
Prior to the thin client rollout, there were a limited number of shared computers that people logged onto. However, St Vincent's "had issues" because if people wanted to log on as themselves, it was taking minutes to log on to every computer.
Medical records online
The hospital also uses Medical Records Online (MRO) which allows healthcare professionals to access patient information whether they are visiting patient's or across campus.
Within the first 12 months of operation, MRO has accumulated over 2.2 million scanned documents. Because the majority of medical records are still paper based, MRO was designed to get an electronic version of the medical records available for clinicians.
"As people present to the organisation, we are getting their records scanned online. Through that project we have also moved to the creation of electronic data such as clinical notes. The medical record is tied into clinical results as well and it allows live access to clinical radiology results."
Based on Cisco's wireless local area network (WLAN) network, Richardson said MRO was also the first step on the long journey towards Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
"We have a strategy to get to a level where there is a paperless environment but that's a long way off for us," he said. "We will go to a phased approach over the next three years."
There are also plans to link MRO to the personally-controlled electronic health records (PCEHR) which the federal government is rolling out.
For consumers who chose to opt in and register for a PCEHR, they can expect their healthcare providers to have access to electronic clinical documents that provide accurate medication information and summarise the current status of their health. Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick