- Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - The new Parkland Memorial Hospital is more than a sleek mass of glass and steel, towering 17 stories above Harry Hines Boulevard.

Dallas County’s new $1.3 billion public hospital is one of the first “digital hospitals” in the United States. The new campus is teeming with technology that wasn’t even envisioned when planning for the hospital began in 2002.

“This building is a whole new world,” Lou Saksen, who is overseeing the five-year construction project, told The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1qVRFxy). “It’s no longer electrical or mechanical, it’s digital - run by a keypad, not a wrench.”

The digital technology, which cost about $80 million, should improve patient care, streamline record-keeping, enhance security and enable Parkland to operate more efficiently.

The main hospital building was completed last month, and if all goes as planned, it will welcome its first patients next May. They will move from a cramped, 1950s-era building into a 21st-century space twice as large, with equipment so modern that its uses may be hard to recognize.

“It’s an apples-to-watermelons move - larger scale and new and advanced capability,” said Joe Longo, Parkland’s assistant vice president over information technology.

Visitors will sign in at touch-screen kiosks, which guide them from the lobby to their destinations in the hospital’s public areas. Patients will lie in smart beds that can weigh them and alert a nurse if they get up when they shouldn’t. The location of babies will be tracked by devices attached to their umbilical cords. Hospital corridors will be lined with video cameras that can detect movement in any direction.

Other hospitals may tout similar technology, but Parkland is among the few with a completely integrated digital system controlling nearly every aspect of its operations.

“Hospitals understand the importance of technology and connecting information across medical devices,” said Chantal Worzala, director of policy for the American Hospital Association. The national group tracks trends in 5,500 U.S. hospitals, including the adoption of electronic medical records, which has been mandated by the federal government.

“Only 44 percent of hospitals report having and using what we define as at least a basic (electronic records) system,” concluded a study of nearly 4,500 hospitals, published last year in the journal Health Affairs. The survey did not ask about other types of digital improvements.

“There are all sorts of exciting ways to involve technology in a hospital that go beyond medical records,” said Worzala, a co-author of the study. “The ultimate goal is having the highest-quality care. And as we learn how these technology systems can support that, hospitals will be adopting them across the board.”

At Parkland, the emphasis is on improving patient quality by promoting digital harmony.

“All of the technologies have merits to themselves, but the objective was to harmonize them to each other,” Longo said.

The new hospital will be similar to a smart home, said Fernando Martinez, the hospital’s chief information officer. “All the digital devices in a smart home can talk to each other because they’re connected to a common hub. That’s not unlike what we do, only we’re much bigger.”

Over the next nine months, Parkland staffers will learn how to use this cutting-edge technology. They won’t be taping homemade signs to patient doors anymore to warn of infectious diseases within. They won’t be filling out or filing stacks of paper as they manage thousands of patients. And they won’t be answering call buttons and scurrying up and down endless corridors.

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