Rochester Hospital Switches to On-Demand Video Provider


At Unity Health System, a 681-bed healthcare network serving the Rochester, N.Y., area, Rick Mincin, director of clinical engineering and telecommunications, will soon have one less worry on his plate.

In recent years, Mincin's department has been tied up managing the educational programs that appear on patients' TVs, and the employee updates that air in staff common areas. Mincin says his team devotes about one-third of a full-time employee to the job. Now, with the acquisition of a new media management system, Mincin is cheerfully preparing to get out of that business.

"We are here to maintain equipment safety for the patients -- all the equipment that is used for their well-being. Now we will have a little bit more time to do that," says Mincin of the planned switch to HealthCast, an on-demand communication offering from Patient Portal Technologies, Syracuse, N.Y.  HealthCast offers a suite of customizable hospital channels, delivering condition-specific content and other video and text communications.

Currently the hospital delivers patient information as a broadcast service. Thus, patients often must begin viewing in the middle of programs already in progress. HealthCast on the other hand delivers content on demand from a central repository, a capability that could improve the likelihood of patients viewing prescribed programs from beginning to end.

To ensure that patients have indeed watched those programs, HealthCast provides careful documentation, according to Matt Oswalt, director of sales for Patient Portal. Once a program is delivered, HealthCast sends a signal through the TV's "smart port," an RJ45 plug reached via an addressable converter. That message locks up the TV, ensuring the program airs from beginning to end.

This assurance is significant for the hospital, which can claim insurance reimbursements based on patients' compliance with viewing instructions. Can the patient still read a book and ignore the program? Sure, but Mincin says it is better than no documentation at all.

In addition to the patient education module, HealthCast also will deliver basic information: A greeting screen, cafeteria hours, hospital events and so on. Finally, the system will include an employee channel, replacing existing paper circulars and newsletters with current news and information distributed through common-room televisions.

From Mincin's point of view, the most significant aspect of the new system is that it offloads so much of the care-and-feeding work, taking the responsibility for content management out of the hospital's hands and putting it in the realm of the vendor.

The undisclosed cost for the project includes an upfront fee plus recurring monthly fees.

When administrators need to put new video on the system, Patient Portal codes and uploads that content. When simple changes need to be made -- additions, deletions, changes to text -- a toll-free number puts hospital administrators in touch with Patient Portal representatives who make the changes.

Installation of the new system begins in December and will take only 30 to 60 days, according to Oswalt. But the project has been five years in the making, though its creation has been indirect. Things got rolling when the women's auxiliary group bought a HealthCast module to assist with nurses' education.

As time passed, corporate communications started looking around for ways to improve patient education and employee outreach. Meanwhile, Mincin's office was shouldering the burden of the old broadcast system. "We are the back end of the dump truck. If you don't know where to put it, give it to clinical engineering," he laments.

With so much going on in healthcare technology right now, Mincin says it was easy for the different stakeholders to miss each other. "Two or three departments were all looking at alternative ways to do the same thing, and eventually it all just came together," he said.

Mincin now hopes he'll be relieved not just of his content-management duties, but also of the need to constantly be caring for equipment that includes 260 TVs and their associated infrastructure. Suppose the Time-Warner cable goes out, taking the hospital TVs with it. Mincin's staff may not be experts in that area of telecom, "so now you are here trying to troubleshoot phone stuff, and that isn't really what you have trained for," he says.

Such scenarios have too often kept Mincin one step behind. "We were always just maintaining. We could never devote the time or effort we would have needed to enhance things," he said, adding that the coming months could see a dramatic turnaround, as management of the system crosses into the vendor's domain. "It's going to be very hands-off for Unity."

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