Better information integration is having an impact on hospital care in China. An innovative data platform developed in Beijing and Reading has significantly cut medical errors and reduced patients’ length of stay in hospitals across China.
China’s smarter hospitals
With a population of more than 1.3 billion*, and close to 200 million people aged 60 years or over2 , China faces a huge burden of chronic and age-related disease. Adding to this pressure, medical resources are spread unevenly across the vast nation, and there is a shortage of healthcare workers. Large hospitals can have thousands of patients waiting to be admitted each day3. Meeting these healthcare needs is one of China’s major contemporary challenges.
Many of China’s hospitals have invested in digital technologies to solve issues of knowledge sharing and data management. But this investment has been fragmented, leading to individual hospitals managing multiple disconnected systems - up to 500 at a single site. Often each system works in a silo, requiring healthcare workers and support staff to input the same information into multiple interfaces. This is inefficient and time-consuming, and increases the risk of errors in patient care.
A single platform
Working with two hospitals in Beijing, informatician Dr Weizi (Vicky) Li – now an Associate Professor at Henley Business School, University of Reading – took on the huge task of finding a way to simplify the input, sharing, and use of healthcare data. Her PhD study at Beijing Institute of Technology and the University of Reading aimed not to abandon investment in the current systems, but to integrate them under a digital ‘umbrella’.
The application of her research provided a single interface for each type of user such as patients, healthcare workers or hospital managers. Patients could book appointments, check waiting times and collect test results through their phone. Clinicians and healthcare workers could use a mobile device to enter and access a patient’s data through the single platform, and managers could easily keep track of output and performance. Beyond data and process, Dr Li also incorporated clinical pathway information. This enables the platform to recommend next steps in treatment, based on a patient's medical records. This is a useful support aid for decision-making, particularly by junior doctors.
Raising standards, reducing inefficiencies
Following the research phase, the platform was adopted by more than 2,000 urban hospitals in China, and the impact on process and patient care has been impressive. By tackling the inefficiencies and errors inherent with a multi-system approach, the integration platform reduced medical errors by an average of 30%, cut waiting times by half and reduced average patient length of stay from 12 days to 10 days.
Chinese digital health company, Sinldo Information Technology, was established to transfer Dr Li’s research into a commercial product for roll-out beyond the two Beijing hospitals involved in her PhD project. Dr Li continues to play an advisory role in the company, which by 2017 had grown to 171 employees and was listed on China’s National Equities Exchange and Quotations stock exchange.
The next phase of implementation is underway for regional hospital networks that could reach smaller hospitals in less populous areas of China. There is a major focus on ensuring the platform supports a seamless transition between larger and more specialist healthcare settings – to avoid mistakes and delays when a patient is referred on from their local hospital.
More recently, Dr Li and her team have been developing artificial intelligence (AI) applications for NHS in the UK, and China (in addition to the developed platform), to further improve healthcare quality and resource management.
The integrated information system improved the efficiency of hospital staff and the hospital itself, liberating doctors to work on more important treatment tasks. The implementation of the platform has also improved patients’ experiences and satisfaction in our hospital.
Contact details for Dr Li and links to her research can be found on her staff profile.
Li, W. (V.) and Yang, G. (2016) Best practice of "Internet+" hospital: seamless medical services across whole process. China Digital Medicine, 2016 (5). pp. 31-33. ISSN 1673-7571
Li, W., Liu, K., Yang, H. and Yu, C. (2014) Integrated clinical pathway management for medical quality improvement-based on a semiotically inspired systems architecture. European journal of Information Systems, 23 (4). pp. 400-417. ISSN 1476-9344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1057/ejis.2013.9