Blurry in Bangkok Part II: The Bumrungrad Story

By David Lareau
03:35 PM

In my last article, I told you about an experience my colleagues and I encountered on a business trip in Thailand. My friend needed new contacts, and didn’t have a chance to get them before he left DC. Since we were meeting in Bumrungrad, one of the leading medical tourism hospitals in the world, he decided to put them to the test, [blinking profusely the whole time, I might add.] With minutes, he was registered, seen by a nurse, seen by a doctor, tested and given a prescription for new lenses. M-i-n-u-t-e-s. Try finding that in the US, where I always end up spending three hours to get 30 seconds with a doc.

So how does a hospital get to this lightning speed of service? Is there some sort of intergalactic wormhole patients enter to defy time? Well, there kind of is. It’s their HIT system, and it tracks patients from registration all the way to medication pickup. I sat down with their Chief Technology Officer Chang Foo to get the story on it.

Me: Chang, give me the numbers. Just how efficient is this place?

Chang: We see about 4,000 patients a day, and half of them are walk-ins. And it takes them about 17 minutes to see a doctor.

Me: And how do you make this happen, IT-wise?

Chang: It’s an interesting story – in 1997, we took the lead to replace all our paper and film with a whole new IT system. We didn’t patch up old systems and try to make them work together – we started from scratch. At that time the Asian financial crisis had hit. We were an organization using many disparate systems, and most of them were very expensive. We commissioned a team to design a system that was integrated from end- to-end. So now, we don’t have separate files for triage, pharmacy, imaging, etcetera. One file follows the patient – and the whole system is interfaced instead of integrated.

Me: Hospitals are putting in new systems all the time. How did you end up with this system that cut patient wait times by...what was it...

Chang: Thirty-nine percent.

Me: Whoa. Thirty-nine percent.

Chang: Yes – well, I believe our difference was in our R&D approach. We didn’t look at the IT system first. We looked at hospital process – and we studied it in great depth. In fact, it was two-plus years before a line of code was actually written. We took that long to develop a data model, understanding the processes within the hospital. We hired experts from all over the world – pharmacists, front office people, back office professionals, every position along the way in the patient experience. They became ingrained in the process, and their insight into each specialty area was translated into a system that works. We also engaged our doctors and nurses, since they’re on the front line. And we have a very strong senior management team that supported us during R&D, and continues to do so. That makes a huge difference.

Me: Can you give me any specifics on how the patient will see the difference, besides by looking at the clock?

Chang: For example, at most places or organizations you register at a single point of entry. Our system was like that – we had a single point of entry where all patients would go before they actually went to a specific clinic. We found out that a lot of times there was a bottleneck related to registering at a single location. So we started experimenting with putting registration kiosks and outlets in various areas of the hospital and even in the clinics themselves -- because a lot of times patients know what problem they have and they can go directly to a specific clinic.

Me: So basically, your success can be attributed to an integrated application design built using a process-oriented approach.

Chang: Yes, the design and approach definitely helped us succeed.

Me: One last question, Chang. You seem to have a little bit of a cough going on. Shouldn’t you get that addressed?

Chang: Yes, I certainly should.

Me: So I guess I’ll see you back here about 17 minutes or so?