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Game Changer: iPad Rollout at the Ottawa Hospital

August 1, 2011
by David Raths
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CIO Dale Potter doubles down on what he sees as the best way to match EHR functionality, clinical workflow

Dale Potter, senior vice president and chief information officer, at the Ottawa Hospital, one of largest academic medical centers in Canada, is overseeing perhaps the largest iPad deployment in the healthcare field to date. The hospital has more than 1,000 in use, and Potter has ordered 1,800 more. He also hired a team of 120 mobile application developers to re-render all its EHR functionality to native iPad and iPhone apps. He says the iPad and mobile apps are fitting into, rather than disrupting, clinician workflows. “When you ask physicians and nurses how much time this is saving them every day, they say hours, not minutes,” he says.

The story of how Potter chose this path is intriguing. Speaking at the World Congress 3rd Annual Leadership Summit on Mobile Health in Cambridge, Mass., on July 28, he captivated the audience with some criticisms of the status quo in health IT and his description of the bold decision to go all-in on iPad development.

Potter first explained that he is still relatively new to the healthcare field, having arrived at Ottawa three years ago after many years leading IT operations of manufacturing firms both in Canada and in Europe.

After visits with EHR vendors and studying how IT was being deployed at the Ottawa Hospital, which has four campuses and 1,300 beds, he saw many examples of how the technology interrupted workflow. Physicians were printing stacks of patient charts before making their daily rounds with their clipboards. He became convinced the industry is still 10 to 15 years behind other sectors in IT sophistication.

“Health care believes it is different,” he said. “Until it gets over itself, things are going to keep moving at a glacial pace.”

In fact, in February 2010, after hearing quite a few horror stories about how much difficulty organizations were having with CPOE implementation, he told his board of directors he would not implement CPOE until he found a solution he believed could be successful. “I just told them flat out I am not going to do it,” he recalled.

That was the same month that Apple first started selling iPads. Potter bought four of them and gave a few to physicians and his deputy CIO to try out for a few weeks and asked them to get back to him with their impressions.

”They came back and said, ‘This is a game-changer,’ he recalls, and he agreed. Potter told his board that if they were serious about their goal of being among the top 10 North American academic medical centers in terms of patient safety and quality, they had to move fast.

Potter made several key decisions quickly. He decided to buy the iPads rather than have staff members purchase their own. He wasn’t going to support a plethora of other tablets or mobile operating platforms. Convinced EHR developers were never going to move that fast on mobile development, he hired his own team of mobile app developers. They created an EHR client app that feels as familiar to users as applications designed by Apple for the iPad, he added.

Flash forward to summer 2011: Potter says CPOE has been successfully deployed on the mobile platform, and he just ordered 1,800 more iPads. He says every day patients send e-mails saying they feel much more engaged as they share visual information on the iPad with clinicians and ask more questions about care processes. “Residents are fighting to get into our institution,” Potter says. “Learning is enhanced.”

He also says he has yet to lose an iPad because the staff members cherish them. His favorite quote was from a physician who held up her iPad after a pilot project was completed: “You will pry this from my cold, dead hands!”

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