AZ Sint-Maarten is the largest hospital in the wide region around Mechelen. Since 2018, the hospital has been using a brand new campus north of the city. The building does not only look amazing from the outside, inside the hospital modern and innovative technology are key. This is certainly true for the operating rooms where surgeons can make use of ProVISION – independent open infrastructure for managing digital images, sound and ICT data in the medical process.
The construction of the hospital in Mechelen took about five years. It replaced three other buildings of AZ Sint-Maarten in Duffel and Mechelen. The new campus accommodates 643 beds and another 96 places in the day hospital. The modern complex was necessary to meet all kinds of new challenges in terms of comfort, privacy, ergonomics, environment, safety, and digital infrastructure. Of course, it was a great opportunity to integrate the latest technology and prepare the hospital for the future.
The hospital’s surgery department consists of no less than 14 operating theatres, 4 day surgery rooms, 4 endoscopy rooms and 2 cath lab rooms, all of which have been equipped with digital ICT infrastructure. “Initially we have certainly thought about the number of rooms we wanted to digitize. We could have started with half of the rooms, for example, but decided to immediately fully equip all the operating theatres. This way, every surgeon can always work in the most ideal conditions and we also build in maximum flexibility options for the OR schedule”, says Maarten Walravens, deputy chief medical officer of the Medical Department.
Digital operation room in a connected hospital - hosted by Maarten Walravens - Assistant to the Chief Medical Officer
To digitize its operating rooms, the hospital chose a solution from Prodata Healthcare following a tender process. Prodata has been providing ICT services to hospitals for years and expanded in 2009 with specific solutions for the healthcare sector. This resulted in ProVISION, ICT infrastructure that allows surgeons to work digitally with high-quality images and videos. They can easily store images, and use and link them to the patient’s file, increasing efficiency during surgery.
“We had initially expected that only some of our surgeons would use the system for larger procedures, but in the meantime we see that every type of surgeon works with it in the operating room. Of course, we have put maximum effort in training our doctors. Surgical treatments today have evolved so much towards digital ‘minimal invasive surgery’ (endoscopic & robotic surgery) that we really need this digital infrastructure in a hospital now and in the future”, says Maarten Walravens.
The operating rooms contain numerous of expensive medical devices that can be connected to the digital OR network in a simple and user-friendly manner. Any digital image from before or during surgery can thus be made available to the OR team. The beating heart of the system is well-hidden room with machines and cables that ensure that surgeons can operate without worries. Maarten Walravens: “Digitizing also means that if the system does not work, you are suddenly vulnerable. Without tools you no longer start an operation based on your gut feeling. So we needed a very high-performing and reliable system.” Thanks to the great performances of the solution and the technical support from Prodata, the surgeons can always continue working. And if a failure does occur, the system can be quickly, easily and safely restarted.
The surgeons at the AZ Sint-Maarten who work with the Prodata solution on a daily basis emphasize that their work has simplified thanks to the system. “What I really like is that you can record images in a simple way and view them afterwards in your protected portal. I film all my surgeries because then you sometimes see things that can help you in future procedures”, says Valentin Noyez, one of the five thoracic and vascular surgeons at the hospital in Mechelen. “Although we could also do that in the past, back then you had to be selective and save your images on a USB stick. Everything goes much faster now.”
His colleague Charlotte-Elise Boeckx, a neurosurgeon, agrees with him: “Because I am part of a new generation of surgeons, I have never experienced the old way of working. But it is extremely practical that we can upload images directly and immediately to a patient’s file in a patient-safe manner. It all feels very intuitive.” In terms of privacy, too, a digital solution is obviously a big improvement over using a classic USB stick.
In the operating rooms themselves, surgeons enjoy working with the best image quality thanks to several 4K screens that they can move and place according to their own desires. For some procedures, for example, it can be useful for the surgeon to place two screens side by side. Of course, there can be no delay on images to minimize the risk of errors.
Another important advantage of the Prodata solution: images can now be sent directly to other locations in a secure way. For instance, when a surgeon requests advice from a colleague, this person can watch from another operating room, the auditorium or a consultation room. “In the past, they might have done this by telephone or the consulted surgeon would come to the operating room. The latter in particular poses unnecessary infection risks. Using laminar flow, the air in the OR is constantly purified. But every time someone opens a door, you lose the effect of that air circulation. So that is something we want to avoid as much as possible”, explains Maarten Walravens.
Forwarding detailed images therefore makes it easier to follow operations remotely. This is also very useful for doctors (in training) who are allowed to observe an operation from an auditorium.
The AZ Sint-Maarten is a frontrunner in Belgium with Prodata’s digital operating room solution. “We were fortunate to be able to do this in a state-of-the-art ICT environment. It might not have been easy to do it within our old buildings. You also need a stable ICT network, which was provided by our ICT architect. In the meantime, we have often received visitors from other hospitals who are interested in this solution and the approach in our own hospital”, says Walravens.
Prodata also closely monitors the use of the system. Ultimately, nothing is more valuable than feedback obtained from the practical experience of the surgeons themselves. The digital OR is therefore a dynamic concept that is regularly adapted to meet the needs of the hospital. Training will also remain crucial to optimize the future use of the solution. “People need to learn how to work with technology. Just look at our smartphone, which we use every day for the same things, while it has numerous other apps that could perhaps improve our lives,” concludes Maarten Walravens.
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