St. Joseph adopting open technology platform to improve medical data use

October 1, 2013


St. Joseph Health of Irvine, Calif., is investing in a technology platform that its leaders believe will enable clinicians and patients to share medical information more effectively.

The health system has become the majority owner and lead client of a new technology company called Da–tu Health that is helping St. Joseph to adopt "open architecture" technology that allows medical information to be shared among clinicians, patients and others, regardless of the computer systems they are using. St. Joseph is not disclosing the amount of its investment.

Using the platform, St. Joseph "will forge new connections that empower caregiver, patient and consumer to work together in the pursuit of health and wellness," said Deborah Proctor, St. Joseph president and chief executive.

Darrin Montalvo, St. Joseph president of integrated services, said that particularly in light of changes happening under health care reform, it is essential that health care providers have the ability to gather and readily use patient data. He said the open platform St. Joseph is adopting will facilitate this.

Harnessing data
Montalvo said the transition to open architecture involves creating electronic, web-based portals through which clinicians, patients and others in the health care system can add or access information, regardless of the electronic device they are using. Da–tu is helping all of St. Joseph's facilities to adopt the portals over the next several months. St. Joseph has 14 hospitals and a network of other locations in California, Texas and New Mexico.

Using the portals, physicians will be able to enter notes from patient visits, testing facilities will be able to enter test results and patients will be able to submit information from home medical devices and from health monitoring web applications.

Montalvo used a hypothetical patient to explain the functionality: During an exam, a physician tells a patient that he needs to exercise more and enters the details of their discussion into the patient's medical record on the portal. In the ensuing weeks, the patient wears a pedometer linked to the Internet portal that electronically logs his exercise time in his patient record. His doctor monitors the patient's exercise frequency and duration.

The portal also allows clinicians to securely email colleagues and patients, make referrals and order medications and for patients to schedule appointments and contact their care providers. Virtually any function that can be done electronically can be done through the portals.

Because of the open architecture, St. Joseph will be able to add all of its facilities to the system and welcome partner organizations to the system without requiring them to change the technology system at their locations. For instance, St. Joseph affiliated with Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian of Newport Beach, Calif., in the spring and Hoag facilities will be able to link into the portals without having to change their computer systems.

Free flowing
Montalvo said that easing the flow and use of data is essential in today's health care environment. With health care reform, providers must be able to aggregate patient medical data so that they can view their patients as a population block and manage their conditions under a population health model. Montalvo said the new technology platform will facilitate that type of information extraction and use.

Also, under health reform, providers must improve how they help patients manage chronic disease. The new system provides technology tools that help clinicians and patients to work together on health improvement, such as through the use of health monitoring and home health applications wired into the portal, Montalvo said.

Providers also are under pressure to work more efficiently and to reduce medical spending. Montalvo said St. Joseph's new system should advance these goals as well because it should better connect clinicians with each other and with their patients. By making the test results easy to access, the system can reduce unnecessary and costly duplication of medical tests.

Montalvo said St. Joseph is an early adopter of the open platform technology for medical records. He expects more systems to move in this direction.

Also as part of its move to the open platform, St. Joseph no longer will maintain its own data centers. St. Joseph facilities have been responsible for keeping enough open storage capacity for the ever expanding amount of health care data they generate. Going forward, St. Joseph will "rent" storage space at vendor-owned data centers. The vendor maintains the hardware, and St. Joseph can rent capacity as its data storage needs grow. Montalvo said patient privacy is protected through safeguards at the data centers.

Selected St. Joseph facilities are piloting the platform now. Early next year, most of the St. Joseph system will "go live" with the project, said Montalvo.

Easing access
St. Joseph's open system will improve health care access for underserved populations, Montalvo said.

St. Joseph operates primary care clinics that draw many uninsured and underinsured people; and these clinics will be connected to the portals, and so clinicians will be able to maintain a central medical record for these patients.

Montalvo said this will have a direct impact on St. Joseph's ability to recruit specialists to treat uninsured patients — a key challenge for the clinics. Specialists say it can be difficult to treat uninsured patients when they lack information about the patients' medical history. But now that information will be centralized in one easily accessible medical record.

While Montalvo said that full adoption of the technology will take time, the open platform holds the potential to improve patients' experience at St. Joseph.

"What differentiates this system is the user experience," he said. "We're improving communication and sharing information with this technology."


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.