Posted May 18, 2018

Technology, Strategy and Robots: Lessons from North America’s First Fully Digital Hospital

By Barb Collins

Fifteen years ago, when we began Humber River Hospital’s journey to become the first fully digital hospital in North America, our commitment was to create a state of the art acute care facility that put caring for our patients, families, community, employees, physicians and volunteers first. We wanted to excel in professional patient care by utilizing the most innovative digital technologies available to improve accuracy, efficiency and safety.

To achieve that aim, we developed a robust digital strategy designed to drive innovation in the following ways:

  • Make information fully electronic and accessible
  • Focus on connecting people and information
  • Empower patients to take control of their health via technology
  • Automate systems to improve processes

Building on this strong foundation, we are well positioned to leverage our hospital to achieve exceptional patient care. By optimizing technology, our employees can focus on activities that directly affect the patient care we provide. These technological advances include:

  • Self-serve kiosks that give real-time information to patients in numerous languages
  • Locating devices that permit family members to keep track of their loved ones’ progress moving from registration through surgery to recovery
  • Closed loop medication and laboratory specimen collection that ensure right patient, right time, right drug or test, automatic documentation and automated delivery of medication administration and lab results to patient records
  • Integrated bedside terminals that empower patients to access their health record and control light, temperature and window coverings

Of our most recent technological achievements, the two we are most proud of are our Command Centre and Pepper, the robot.

The Command Centre

We are the first hospital in Canada to use this visionary system. It acts as a highly-advanced, data-driven ‘Mission Control’, enabling us to monitor and manage the flow of our patients at every stage of their care journey. We’re already seeing significant improvements in many areas throughout the hospital. The Command Centre empowers staff to collaborate and communicate more effectively which eliminates bottlenecks.

The goal is to save beds; that doesn’t mean our beds are never empty! What it does mean is that, because we are using our resources so efficiently, we are managing increased demand for care and allowing staff and physicians to focus on the people part of healthcare.

In the five short months since we introduced the Command Centre, we’re already providing care for patient volumes that would have required adding 23 beds. As we continue to find efficiencies using predictive analytics, we expect to be able to manage patient volumes that would have required as many as 45 additional beds. That’s a huge savings for our hospital and our health care system.

At Humber River, a centralized Command Center helps to proactively identify barriers to exceptional patient care.

Pepper, the Friendly Robot(s)

Apart from the efficiency we have gained through the investment in our Command Centre, we have also integrated two humanoid robots into our patient experience strategy. These two friendly robots (Pepper 1 and Pepper 2) are located in two separate areas of the hospital, but they both have one important goal – to engage with patients and visitors to improve their experience.

Pepper 1 greets, guides, engages and entertains patients and visitors as they enter the hospital’s main entrance hall.

Pepper 2 does so much more. Some hospital procedures can be scary. By detecting human emotion, Pepper can relate to and comfort children who may be anxious about a procedure, reducing their stress.

By this time next year, through our relationship with its creators, we expect to participate in and research additional pilot projects, including involving Pepper with more patients such as seniors and rehabilitation patients.

The Effect on Employee Engagement

Serving our community with compassion, professionalism and respect is why we created the model for the digital future of healthcare and why we will continue to work hard to stay ahead of the curve. The tools and technologies at our disposal today are groundbreaking, and we aim to leverage them to ensure we continue to make a difference in the experience of our patients, families, staff, physicians and volunteers. Additionally, it makes a difference in the health outcomes we achieve, the work environment we create and in our wise use of precious public resources.

We cannot succeed without the commitment of our staff, physicians and volunteers. We know technology advances are important, but interpersonal relationships are what truly make the difference when working with our patients and our team.

It is this dedicated team that turns vision into reality and, in turn, are motivated in part by the digital opportunities to shape and influence healthcare now and for the future. I am proud to say that we have experienced a 20 percent increase in staff engagement during the past three years. Most notably are the following engagement scores:

  • People from diverse backgrounds feel welcome: 86%
  • Treat each other with respect: 80%
  • Feel I belong to a team: 78%
  • Team members support one another: 77%

We believe the heart of our digital strategy is about creating synergy between technology and our people. You can’t become the most technologically advanced hospital in Canada without your team, and by focusing on and improving our working environment, we have seen a great improvement in our team’s level of engagement.

Lessons for Healthcare Leaders

For healthcare leaders who are interested in pursuing new or advanced technologies in their organization, consider the following tips:

  1. Be bold and courageous.
  2. Engage your team.
  3. Keep patients and families at the forefront of your strategy.

Barb Collins shared Humber River Hospital’s digital journey at the 16th annual What’s Right in Health Care®. She addressed the growing presence of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and how it can benefit organizations in the future. Hear her perspective in the short video below.

Barb Collins was appointed the President and CEO of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Canada, on July 1, 2016. Ms. Collins is a Registered Nurse with more than 35 years’ experience as a manager and director of all major clinical and support areas of an acute care hospital.


  • Barb Collins

    Barb Collins

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