Foshan Women and Children Hospital is the first Grade 3A maternity and child health hospital in Foshan city of China. It has a long and well-earned reputation for women’s and children’s healthcare. In 2011, the hospital successfully carried out the first open fetal surgery in Asia. By 2019, the hospital ranked 21st among its counterpart hospitals in China. Now it has been developed into a large hospital with three branches.
Together with Foshan Women and Children Hospital’s professional development comes along its revolution in IT infrastructure. Ma Liming, CIO of the hospital, stands at the core. Ms. Ma’s IT team keeps innovating in digital transformation and has achieved various prestigious awards, including the China HIT Model Unit and the China Outstanding Digitalization Team of 2020. Ms. Ma herself was also named China’s Outstanding CIO multiple times for outstanding leadership.
We invited Ms. Ma to disclose the secret of the successful transformation of Foshan Women and Children Hospital’s IT infrastructure, in which she introduced the overall strategy and the adoption of hyperconvergence.
The following is the transcript of the interview.
What are the major focuses of Foshan Women and Children Hospital’s development in digital transformation?
Hello, everyone! I’m Ma Liming, Director of the Information Center of Foshan Women and Children Hospital. We had a good start with digitalization. In 1992, we began to use computers to collect and manage outpatient charges. In 2004, we became one of the earliest adopters of structured electronic medical records (EMR) in China. Since then, we have participated in multiple national-level innovative studies and achieved promising results in areas such as “Internet Plus” uses in hospital management and medical services.
Currently, we are focusing on improving the graded evaluation of electronic medical records and the standardized maturity assessment of hospital information interconnectivity. We are trying to improve current IT infrastructure and make up for what we lack. With intelligent services and management, we could comprehensively optimize IT infrastructure and further improve various information systems.
Also, we have adopted 5G, cloud computing, IoT, AI and other technologies to connect more intelligent devices. For example, we already have unattended pharmacies, intelligent medicine cabinets, automatic medicine-dispensing machines, digital operating rooms, various robots and streamlined testing, blood sampling and triage, etc.
We are able to replace or reduce human effort through automatic testing, processing, analysis, reminding and control operations. To provide closed-loop services, we brought together offline diagnosis/nursing and online consultation/nursing/management.
Besides, digital transformation also facilitates resource integration and the concentration of factors of production. We enhance efficiency by improving factors’ quality, quantity and integrity, as well as adjusting their combinations. This benefits the transformation of our management principles from “numerical expansion” to “strengthening quality and performance”.
Why did the hospital shift to hyperconvergence?
Our IT system should keep up with the pace of healthcare development and ever-increasing service demands. This entails a growing need in system resources. For example, we launched up to 50 new systems in 2021. And we believe the growing trend of the overall business demand will be more prominent in the coming years, especially after the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously, we used a centralized storage architecture for our IT infrastructure. But it suffered several problems, including:
- Performance bottlenecks with the storage controllers. This required a one-time investment in more advanced storage controllers to meet future performance demands.
- As virtual machines increased, it was necessary to stack a large number of hard disks to support the high I/O capacity under legacy storage architecture. This considerably increased the cost, the consumption of rack space and electric power, and the complexity of overall architecture.
We therefore hoped to have a more friendly IT infrastructure to simplify our operations & maintenance. Particularly, in the hospital context, it can be difficult to recruit excellent IT staff because of limited budgets. So the refined IT infrastructure could reduce pressure of operations & maintenance. Of course, there are other important anticipations for our new IT infrastructure such as on-demand investment, quick deployment, cost-effectiveness, space-saving and power-saving.
In May 2017, we set up a project team to support the hospital’s development and the construction of a new branch. After doing sufficient research and tests on devices at the new hospital’s data center, we confirmed that the hyperconverged architecture was very much in line with our expectations. In June 2018, we tested systems with active-active hyperconvergence in two server rooms at the former hospital site, which drove us to pick the hyperconvergence solution.
What makes a good hyperconvergence vendor? Why did you choose SmartX?
When selecting hyperconvergence vendors, we mainly considered the following aspects:
- Product stability, which I think is particularly important for hospitals to provide 7/24 services;
- Convenient operations, maintenance and management; and
- Professional services.
Besides, I was drawn by a small detail and reassured my decision in SmartX. I remember that when we tested hyperconverged devices at SmartX, we had a look at their working environment before leaving. They have ergonomic office chairs and their workplace was full of human-centered designs. I had total faith in products and services provided by this company because they paid so much attention to details.
And in fact, my instinct didn’t lie. There has been no single accident in the past three years since we launched SmartX hyperconvergence in 2019. We are also quite satisfied with Smartx’s regular inspection services.
What kinds of systems are currently running on the hyperconverged architecture?
At present, more than 40 systems in our hospital, including the integrated platform, are running stably on over 300 hyperconverged virtual machines.
Besides, SmartX hyperconvergence also supports the disaster recovery databases of our mission-critical systems. It allows us to conveniently distribute data to the dev/test environment by cloning or taking a snapshot, without affecting the core systems. The distribution can be done fast, with time reduced from half an hour to 1 or 2 minutes. This means a lot to our IT team as we develop HIS, EMR, clinical pathways and many other systems for the hospital.
How does it feel like to use the hyperconverged architecture?
The hyperconverged architecture is very easy to use and requires less operations & maintenance effort. We can flexibly plan and allocate resources on demand. Besides, we don’t need to purchase additional storage devices, which saves 50% of rack space and reduces the pressure of UPS and heat dissipation. This helps us contribute to carbon neutrality.
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