Technology provides a mainland bridge to MGH


By Nelson Sigelman

Despite a gleaming new façade, in the physical sense, the new Martha’s Vineyard Community Hospital remains an island outpost of medical care linked by ferry and, in an emergency, helicopter to the mainland. However, the walls conceal a network of wires that provides a technological bridge to Boston area medical institutions and resources only seconds away.

Keith Jennings, part of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) planning and management office, is the man responsible for the hospital’s new information systems. “It is not terribly sexy what we are doing,” Mr. Jennings said, “but what we are doing is we are setting Martha’s Vineyard Hospital up for the future.”

In a recent telephone conversation Mr. Jennings described the old Martha’s Vineyard hospital computer network as “very much a digital island.” As part of the transition to the new building, the hospital will be part of MGH and the larger Partners Healthcare system that includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, North Shore Medical Center, Faulkner Hospital, McLean Hospital, Nantucket Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Last fall, hospital doctors began making the change to a state-of-the-art electronic medical records system Partners developed and is now in use throughout the system known as the Longitudinal Medical Record (LMR).

LMR allows doctors to be able to retrieve a patient’s complete file electronically. The touch of a computer screen also provides access to up-to-date medical records, including test results and a patient’s history, along with alerts about possible drug interactions.

Vineyard patients treated at hospitals within the Partners system benefit from instant record transferability.

The new building is hoped to be fully wired and operational by the end of April. Current plans call for the actual move from the old building to the new one to occur on a weekend in mid-May.

On the actual day that clinicians and patients make the move, Mr. Jennings and a team of approximately 15 computer and network technicians will leave the new building, which will be fully functional, and enter the old building where they will retrofit and replace all of the computers that are in place, install new wiring and build some new data closets where switches will go. “To a very great extent we will be rewiring the whole building in a weekend,” Mr. Jennings said.

Once complete both the old and new buildings will be part of the Partners system. “We are turning the entire MVH campus into part of the Partners network,” Mr. Jennings said. “The same way that Mass General is part of it, and the Brigham, and Newton Wellesley, MVH becomes peers on the computer network.”

Mr. Jennings said the new network would include a new VOIP (voice over internet protocol) telephone system to replace the hospital’s five antiquated systems. The VOIP system utilizes existing computer connections to support a phone system, eliminating the need for a secondary phone line and outlet. It also means that an existing phone number is no longer tied to a physical phone but can be transferred to any computer a person happens to be sitting at. Voice mails show up in the computer’s email in-box.

Currently, most Internet connections to the mainland are by way of microwave. The MVH network design Mr. Jennings said includes use of a fiber optic undersea cable that is the subject of negotiations with Comcast.

The Internet pipe would be a 50 megabyte EPL (Ethernet private line) circuit, a connection that is approximately 50 times the size of what a home user might have available, he said.

“It is expandable, which was important to us, should we need it in the future” he said. “We could change it to 55, 60 or 100 if we need it without starting over.”

The hospital will maintain a microwave connection as a backup.

The expanded technology will provide opportunities for members of the hospital’s information technology team. Mr. Jennings said the expectation is that the hospital’s ability to take advantage of advanced information technology and systems and maintain those systems will also grow.

More importantly for a small hospital, being part of the Partners core system means advanced tech support. “So when something goes bump in the night, in addition to the work the guys there have to do, they can now tie into the full Partners IT (information technology) infrastructure and support staff to help them,” he said. “It is a huge thing because now there are a whole lot of people who can be up at 2 in the morning to work with them.”

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