Going green is a golden opportunity for providers

By John Andrews
10:31 AM

Healthcare providers are getting heavily nickeled and dimed on their energy costs without even knowing it, “Green IT” proponents say. And while going “green” may be a high-profile social movement with political overtones, it is actually a concept rooted in pragmatism designed to save money while saving the earth at the same time.

Vernon Hills, IL-based CDW has looked at how IT operations waste energy and the staggering dollar totals that result. The CDW survey of Fortune 1000 companies showed a gigantic carbon footprint and nearly a half billion in squandered energy dollars by 530 organizations, which at average electricity prices amounts to over 4.7 billion kilowatt hours and more than 3.1 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Survey participants estimated that their IT departments could reduce energy costs by an average of 17 percent or $901,000, compared with the average reported total business IT budget of $40.6 million. Looking at the average annual U.S. salary of $32,390, researchers estimate a $901,000 reduction in IT energy costs equates to 28 jobs at one company alone.  At 530 companies, that’s 14,840 jobs.

Despite the disconcerting study findings, Jeff Godlewski, manager of CDW’s Server/Storage Solution Architects, believes the tide is turning and that more IT directors are becoming more committed to environmental issues.

“Environmental responsibility is more important, becoming more part of IT’s initiatives than five or 10 years ago,” he said. “It now is part of the top three to five issues for IT organizations.”

The main reason for the dramatic power drain is too much hardware, Godlewski said. Data center mainframes are certainly symbols of that excess, but it now goes beyond the “engine room of waste,” he said.

“The roots are in the data center soil, but over the past three years it has spread into other parts of the organization,” Godlewski said. “For every server in the data center, there are 30 or 40 PCs sitting on desktops.”

The cloud computing concept has developed to a point where organizations can shift away from the traditional data center, he said. By offering initiatives to “virtualize” systems, CDW is helping organizations reduce their hardware installations, freeing up office space and lowering power consumption.

Stamford, CT-based Cycle Computing sees cloud computing as a wave of the future that not only offers environmental benefits, but also maximizes an organization’s computer usage. In a cloud computing project with Purdue University, Cycle built DiaGrid, a network of idle campus computers and servers to provide the massive computational capacity needed by researchers.

By partnering with other campuses across Indiana, Purdue increased the total capacity to more than 177 teraflops – equal to a $3 million supercomputer requiring several thousand square feet of data center space. With approximately 31,000 processors, it currently offers 15.6 million available computation hours, and over the last month the flagship clusters were 97.3 percent utilized.

“What we did was build a system to automate the provisioning of high performance computing on a cloud,” said CEO Jason Stowe. “The appetite for computing at the academic level is insatiable, so the challenge was to have the capacity required for life science research, where demand often outstrips supply for capacity.”

Running calculations are the most demanding function for the computer and it creates a “burst of demand” on the system, Stowe said. DiaGrid facilitates scheduling for these processes and during idle times, puts the system into sleep mode to save power.

Jettisoning paper
Paper is about as “un-green” as it gets, yet healthcare organizations are still handling reams of it, noted Bob Janacek, chief technology officer and founder of Morristown, NJ-based DataMotion. Even so, he says paper reduction is one of the easiest and most obvious places to start in promoting environmental consciousness.

An SaaS supplier, DataMotion leverages the “dial tone” for file transfer, invoices, electronic forms, e-mail and other documents, Janacek said. Moreover, patients can help alleviate the need for paper documents by handling correspondence and transactions with a computer on their end.

“For example, patient enrollment can be filled out at home and posted electronically,” he said. “Not only does it save paper, it reduces errors from re-keying data.”

Eliminating paper also cuts down on gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions from courier service delivery trucks, said Paula Skokowski, chief marketing officer for Palo Alto, CA-based Accellion.

“Digital delivery is faster, cheaper and more secure than courier services,” she said. “One hospital had a security breach because it sent data on a CD that the courier lost.”
While healthcare is one of the fastest growing market for Accellion’s new Green EX virtual appliance, the industry is still too reliant on paper and courier delivery, Skokowski said .

“One terabyte of data is equal to 50,000 trees,” she said. “If data is already in digital form, it makes no sense to put it on paper.”

Simplifying processes
Scituate, MA-based Medical Web Technologies has identified the preoperative process as an antiquated exercise responsible for wasting gasoline, staff resources and loads of time. The electronic age has diminished the need for patients to physically report to the hospital for a preoperative review, said Dan Short, vice president of sales.

“Because many of the people who have surgical procedures are otherwise healthy, it is unnecessary to bring people onsite and have them sit in a waiting room until a nurse comes in to collect their information,” he said.

The company’s system takes the pre-op data, validates it and ties it together for clinician review. It is designed to dovetail with electronic medical records and has the capability to “triage” pre-op cases so that if it is necessary for the patient to come in for a physical review, it is noted and scheduled, Short said.

“Patients are now capable of providing their pre-op history and other details via the Internet,” he said. “Hospitals don’t realize how time-consuming and resource-intensive the pre-op process is.”