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Modern hospitals have adopted numerous high-tech tools, from advanced imaging instruments to robotic surgical aids. But when it comes to managing and sharing information, most facilities are fairly Dickensian. Next January, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) plans to begin construction on a medical center that could change all that; exchanging paper and film for 1s and 0s, UCLA Medical Center is investing $100 million to make its new hospital essentially all-digital.

To realize that goal, UCLA Medical Center’s senior associate director/chief information officer J. Michael McCoy and his co-workers are developing a Java-enabled, Intranet-based browser that can integrate information from multiple clinical systems. Using in-room Web-TVs, patients will be able to go online to track treatment plans, communicate with medical staff, review their charts-or select dinner entree.

For their part, health care providers will use Intranet-linked personal palm devices to check patients’ latest test results, input vital signs, order medications, and perform other quick transactions. They’ll also rely on radio-linked, flat-paneled mobile displays to review more detailed medical information.

Going digital poses difficult challenges for the hospital’s information systems experts. And it’s not cheap. But if all goes well, UCLA hopes eventually to recoup its investment through more efficient patient care and hospital inventory management. For the patient, it could mean finally being on the inside when it comes to all those critical records.

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