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Digital Hospital to Break Ground in 2002

Kate Traynor

Birmingham, Ala., will one day be home to the nation’s first hospital designed from the ground up as an all-digital, automated patient care center, says HealthSouth Corp., a health care services network headquartered in the city.

The $225 million, 219-bed facility, scheduled to open by the end of 2003, is a joint project headed by HealthSouth and California-based software developer Oracle Corp. Robotic surgery, wireless technology, electronic record-keeping, and a fully automated pharmacy are a few of the technological services slated for use at the hospital.

HealthSouth and Oracle have enlisted the help of nine medical equipment makers. Among these companies is San Diego-based Pyxis Corp., which will provide medication and supply dispensing systems for the hospital.

"I think the vision is the right one and they’re thinking correctly about the potential of the new hospital," says Pyxis President Steve Thomas. "In a lot of cases, the technology challenges that hospitals are having is they buy systems from many vendors and then they’d like them to work together." But that does not happen easily in a retrofitted system.

What sets the digital hospital apart from other facilities, Thomas says, is "the integration—and the integration at the outset."

Thomas says that some Pyxis systems can already interact with electronic medical administration records and health information systems—a plus for the new hospital’s integrated environment. In fact, he is confident that most of the hospital’s dispensing needs can be met using products already marketed by his company.

According to Thomas, Pyxis automation can reduce first-dose turnaround time, which he says can take at least three or four hours in less technological settings, to about half an hour. But automation in the pharmacy does not eliminate the need for a pharmacist’s review of medication orders, he says. "We just let it happen electronically, as opposed to doing it with paper."

Taking the digital hospital from concept to reality should prove both challenging and rewarding, Thomas says. "Our people…have never been part of designing a hospital before and so that will probably take us into a whole new world of creative thoughts and ideas."