Forward-Thinking in Healthcare and Technology

Note: Metro Health is now University of Michigan Health-West

Metro Health has been changing healthcare in West Michigan since it was formed by a group of osteopathic physicians in 1942 as Grand Rapids Osteopathic Hospital. Today, the Metro Health system includes a 208-bed hospital, physician offices throughout the greater Grand Rapids area and many other state-of-the-art facilities. With award-winning inpatient and outpatient specialty services, nationally recognized heart and vascular services and a wide variety of other distinctions, Metro Health is on the leading edge of patient care.

Metro Health has a unique passion for providing healthcare experiences that enable patients to live life more fully, and they are focused on the whole patient — body, mind and spirit.

One key to Metro Health’s ongoing success is their commitment to innovation. Rather than trying something new just because it’s new, they continually seek to implement technology and processes that meaningfully improve the way they care for patients.

As one of Metro Health’s strategic technology partners for over fifteen years, OST is proud to have helped support them in their mission to provide the best health care experience possible. Below, you can learn more about some of the innovative technology solutions we have worked to implement alongside Metro Health’s team over the years — and how Metro Health has leveraged them to further the quadruple aim in healthcare:

  • Improve the patient experience.
  • Improve population health.
  • Reduce the cost of care.
  • Improve staff engagement and retention.


Implementing and Improving Electronic Health Records

Today, over 95% of hospitals use electronic health records (EHRs). Beyond simply recording patient data, EHRs can improve decision-making, streamline workflows and provide many other benefits. One of the most tangible benefits most patients have experienced is being able to quickly and easily access health records from just about anywhere. For the overwhelming majority of hospitals and doctors, gone are the days of manila folders, the space they occupy and the myriad risks of having people’s health history on paper in one location.

This wide adoption of electronic health records has happened incredibly fast. In 2010, EHR adoption was only at 54.5%. Among independently owned outpatient clinics, adoption was at a mere 29% in 2010.

So what changed?

One factor was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This legislation, signed into law in 2009, provided financial incentives for hospitals and health care professionals to adopt and utilize EHRs.

Simultaneously, advancements in technology have simplified the adoption and use of EHRs. For example, the cost of technology infrastructure needed to support EHRs has dropped both on-premises and in the cloud. HIPAA-compliance and security functionality have become standard features across electronic medical record (EMR) platforms. And many EHR systems have built-in patient access tools to help providers stay connected with their patients.

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Metro Health has been at the cutting edge of digital transformation throughout their history. In fact, Metro Health was the first healthcare system in the region to use an EMR in the ambulatory setting back in 2006. And in 2009 they were the first in the region to link EMRs to connect the hospital, labs, clinics, surgical suites, their network of outpatient centers, physicians and other locations and personnel. This system, MetroConnect, keeps patients’ information secure, updated and available to both patients and medical professionals whenever they need it.

MetroConnect is built on a platform called Epic. When Metro Health was working on implementing this system in the early 2000s, they consulted with OST. The team at OST has specialized in Epic infrastructure, both on-prem and in the cloud, for nearly two decades. After initial strategizing, Metro Health partnered with OST to make the shift from IBM to HPE and to purchase, configure and maintain the infrastructure needed to get MetroConnect fully operational. Working alongside Metro Health’s team, OST helped them realize their vision for a seamlessly integrated electronic medical record system.

In early 2010, the CEO and President of Metro Health at the time commented,

“Our investment, both in time and dollars, has been substantial, and we are very pleased to be the first major health system in West Michigan to fully integrate medical records. No matter where you are in the Metro Health system, MetroConnect ensures that our team will have up-to-date, accurate information at their fingertips, allowing them to spend less time hunting through charts and more time caring for patients.”

MetroConnect offers many benefits to patients and providers, including:

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Accurate Information

Both patients and physicians have access to the patient’s medical history, allowing providers to be able to see test results, treatment history, prescription medications, patient instructions and related information in real time.

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Convenient Access

At any time, patients can see chart information, review bills, see test results, renew prescriptions, connect with their physician and much more.

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Shared Details

All health care information can now be shared easily between primary care physicians, specialists and others involved in health decisions.

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Reduced Medical Error

Computerized order entry reduces the likelihood of mistakes in interpreting handwritten orders and information.

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Health History

The EMR tracks key health statistics throughout a patient’s life, eliminating the need to transfer records. It also allows providers to identify patterns that could help prevent, diagnose or treat conditions.

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Built-in electronic security features, such as data encryption, password protection and multi-factor authentication ensure the security and privacy of all information.

These benefits translate to improvements at every level of care, a sentiment echoed by Metro Health’s Chief Information Officer at the time.

“At Metro Health, our goal is to provide the best experience for our patients, physicians, staff and community. MetroConnect is a tremendous asset to West Michigan, underscoring our commitment to be a leader in patient care, patient safety and technology.”

As Metro Health has grown over the years, so too has their relationship with OST.


Building A VDI System That Saves Time and Provides Access to High-Quality Images

Furthering their commitment to innovation and technology, Metro Health identified a technology issue that reduced security, caused inefficiencies, reduced transparency and created many other challenges. The problem was that physicians, nurses and other staff rarely stayed in one place to deliver care and carry out their other duties. Some would even travel to various buildings or cities throughout their day.

With computer towers at individual workstations connected to the network, booting up (or rebooting) and logging in to new devices took up a lot of time, and busy users found workarounds. At that time, a Metro Health Technology Strategist explained the core of the problem: “roaming users resorted to sharing credentials and logging into other users’ workstations to access their applications.”

To address this challenge and empower users to safely and securely utilize tools and processes that aligned with appropriate information governance, Metro Health needed a solution that was fast, simple, reliable and accessible. Metro Health’s CIO at the time developed an idea to create and utilize a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) so users could access their own desktop from any endpoint location within 10 seconds or less.

Over the course of eight months, Metro Health worked with OST to write, test and roll out a browser-based VDI solution that connected roaming users to an EMR system in a VDI environment. With all the computing done on servers in Metro Health’s data center, all users needed was a monitor and keyboard at any given workstation, which simplified and greatly reduced the time to log in.

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Professionals throughout the Metro Health system immediately adopted this new technology because it allowed them to quickly pick up wherever they left off no matter how much they moved from location to location. It was secure. It was convenient. And it resolved a wide variety of issues that both users and the organization were facing with the older system. For example, the IT team could now manage and monitor nearly everything from security to personalization settings for users.

But a few challenges still remained. For example, graphics processing created slowdowns and crashes, even with basic tasks like watching a training video in a browser or reviewing medical images within Epic. To combat this problem, offloading server-side CPU usage to a GPU was required, but that solution required additional expertise and coordination.

OST worked closely with Metro, NVIDIA and HPE to build a one-of-a-kind solution that incorporated pre-installed NVIDIA GPUs into HPE servers for the first time ever. This allowed Metro to run a pilot with 95 users, and they were overwhelmingly positive about the changes.

One doctor explained at the time,

“This virtual desktop technology allows me to log in from any place that I want — from home, from work, from any place out of town. And when I log in, I see the applications as if I’m standing in my office or at my administrative site. It doesn’t’ matter where I am. I see the exact same presentation on the monitor as I do from anyplace else.”

He described the system as a “big stress reducer” with “huge time savings” that improved his quality of life both in and out of the office because of the flexibility the new system offered.

With this upgrade to the VDI implementation, internal and external analysis revealed significant improvements:

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50 minutes per day saved by nurses

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30 minutes per day saved by doctors

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Flat service call volume to IT despite these updates and a 35% increase in the number of endpoints

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Annual savings of over 1,600 person-hours

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Annual ROI of $2 million

In the words of Metro Health’s Technology Strategist,

“This story is not entirely about a traditional problem and solution. Rather, it is mainly about a CIO recognizing where technology was going and how it could benefit our patients — and making the commitment to push Metro Health toward the leading edge of what was possible and beyond, thus carrying on our tradition of innovation and leadership.”


Providing Managed Services Support for Metro Health’s In-House VDI Implementation

During the larger rollout of Metro Health’s VDI solution, their IT team realized they needed additional resources to successfully complete the project. Because of our long history of success with Metro Health, we were called in to provide support and consulting as Metro Health sought to expand the benefits they had seen with their pilot group.

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Challenges Arose for Metro Health’s In-House Team During VDI Project

After the success of their VDI pilot project, a high degree of visibility was placed on Metro Health’s IT team. This created additional pressure to successfully deploy the end-user compute (EUC) on time. Unfortunately, the primary engineer on the project left Metro Health in the middle of the VDI implementation. The loss of a key team member increased the risk of the project falling behind and going over budget.

Metro Health’s team needed to supplement their in-house IT expertise and experience. But they also needed help managing the complexities of a project that involved a variety of other teams at Metro Health, OEMs, multiple vendors and other entities so their team could fully leverage their skills on the VDI implementation — not project management.

Challenges Arose for Metro Health’s In-House Team During VDI Project

OST was able to work closely with Metro Health to provide the depth of skill they needed with a flexible consulting arrangement. This allowed Metro Health to take advantage of the different skillsets OST has to offer on an as-needed basis throughout the lifecycle of their project.

Furthermore, OST’s close familiarity with Metro Health’s organizational governance and operational maturity helped facilitate improved alignment between IT and stakeholders.

Once the VDI implementation went live, OST stayed on board to provide ongoing support and consulting. Our work continues to enable Metro Health’s IT team to focus on their commitment to innovation and outstanding patient care.

Tangible Results: On-Time Delivery, Increased Mobility and Improved Patient Care

Metro Health’s CIO at the time was thrilled with the results:

“I am speechless. From what was a disaster to what has become a miracle, I am grateful and indebted to such dedication, service and excellence! You all rose to the challenge and found a way to save our situation. I want to thank OST for your true ‘partnership.’ I am without words. All I can say is that I’m grateful to work side by side with such a team. You are part of what makes Metro Health special.”

Metro Health is a noteworthy example of effective IT and business alignment. Speaking with WGVU’s Shelley Irwin on Tech Talk, one of OST’s enterprise data center consultants reflected on Metro Health’s unique position at the intersection of healthcare and IT.

“They really have been pioneers in the technology space. They did virtual desktops where doctors and nurses can roam around before that was even a real acronym in the industry.”

With ongoing improvements in clinician mobility and patient care, Metro Health continues to be a leader in the technology and healthcare space.

2020 and Beyond: Enabling Metro Health’s Vision Through Technology

Over the years, OST has worked alongside Metro Health during outages, and we have maintained great relationships with technology and leadership stakeholders. Today, we continue to serve Metro Health as Epic and VDI architectural design consultants.

We look forward to helping Metro Health innovate and excel in technology, healthcare and everything else they do for patients, their employees and the community.


2017 Essentials Brief: 9th Annual Outpatient PM & EHR Study. Himss Analytics.

Retrieved here

Parasrampuria, S., & Henry, J. (2019, April). Hospitals’ Use of Electronic Health Records Data, 2015-2017. ONC Data Brief (46)

Retrieved here