WASHINGTON -- Children's National Medical Center in Washington and Cerner, a health care technology provider based in Kansas City, Mo., are each investing several million dollars to build what they say is the nation's first health information technology center focused solely on pediatric care.
Called the Bear Institute, the center will bring together physicians and medical experts from Children's Hospital and computer engineers from Cerner, the companies said. It is intended to help the hospital more quickly implement existing and emerging technologies, such as electronic health records and data-driven treatment recommendations, as well as spur innovation and software development aimed squarely at improving care for children.
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"This gives us an opportunity to combine our talents and resources and make incremental investments from both organizations to advance technology and informatics around pediatric medicine," Cerner chief executive Neal Patterson said in an interview.
Cerner and Children's Hospital will each contribute several million dollars (both declined to disclose the exact amount) to the seven-year project, which has been in the works for more than a year. The institute will likely open at the hospital in early January.
It will be based on similar institutes Cerner has already built, one inside the University of Missouri's hospital network in Kansas City and another in Vancouver, Canada, both of which are focused on creating technology to improve care for adults and elderly patients.
"Children are the front door to some of the major health care issues in our country and around the world, so this is key," Patterson said, explaining that new research paired with advancing technology can help identify children who are at risk for such chronic diseases as asthma and diabetes, allowing physicians to take preventive measures.
Children's has been a Cerner client for more than a decade, during which time the hospital has been transitioning from paper to digital health records. In the past few years, the two organizations have started building additional technologies to help physicians, including, for example, software that helps doctors determine whether children with head injuries are good candidates for computerized head scans, which can subject young patients to small doses of radiation -- sometimes unnecessarily.
"That's an example of the kind of innovation we're looking for out of the institute," Kurt Newman, the hospital's chief executive, said in an interview, adding that the number of unnecessary head scans at Children's Hospital has fallen 40 percent since the tool was launched.
Newman pointed out that advances in genetic mapping and expanding electronic health databases can help physicians determine the most effective medicines and treatments for any given patient but only if technology is put in place to analyze the data, make the information relevant for each patient and get it into the hands of those physicians.
"We want to bring new information, around genetics, for example, right to the bedside, right to the doctor's fingertips and right to the emergency department," Newman said, noting the merging of minds between physicians and engineers under one roof should help accelerate innovation and generate ways to improve care for children, which can then be shared and replicated at other pediatric hospitals.
On another level, it marks a subtle shift in the purely vendor-client relationship between Children's and Cerner, as the hospital looks to partner with the firm's software developers and engineers to help design the industry's next big technology, rather than simply purchasing it after it has been built.
That could pay off in more ways than one for Children's. For instance, financial gains from any software programs or intellectual property patented by the new institute would be split between the hospital and Cerner.
"We don't know exactly what the business model is for any of this is yet," Newman said, later adding that "our challenge is to live in both worlds, to keep thinking about innovation and improving care while also evolving our business model."
In this case, though, he expects that one will naturally follow the other.
"My sense is that, by providing even more efficient and effective care to children and their families, the business model will fall into place," Newman said. "We can always find a business model to support better care."