School of Hard Knocks

Gary Baldwin, Technology Editor , April 17, 2007

A few years ago, while recovering from surgery, Kelley Oliphint saw the light--if not the stars--about how technology can best serve patients. Navigating his small hospital room, Oliphint banged his head on the protruding television monitor. Oliphint promptly put the lesson learned to work at St. Mark's Medical Center, a 49-staffed-bed facility in LaGrange, TX, where he serves as president and chief executive officer.

When the rural hospital opened its doors in the summer of 2005, traditional big-box television screens were absent from patient rooms. Instead, the new facility opted for sleeker, flat-panel monitors. "We tried to make the rooms friendly for the patients," Oliphint says. "We didn't want televisions that stuck out two feet."

St. Mark's has embraced technology in other ways as well. In an effort to keep patients from gravitating to hospitals in Austin some 50 miles to the north, the rural hospital incorporated high-end imaging equipment into its service line. St. Mark's now sports a 64-slice CT, a rarity in the rural setting, and also added a 1.5T MRI unit. Rather than transport outdated equipment from its now-shuttered predecessor hospital, St. Mark's opted for as much of the latest and greatest technology it could afford for the new $26.5 million facility.

"We wanted brand new technology, and the best technology, so patients would not go elsewhere," Oliphint says.But this journey hasn't been easy for an independent rural hospital like St. Mark's, which doesn't enjoy the resources of larger urban facilities. "Large hospital systems can put technology in every facility," Oliphint says. "It's harder to implement here. We don't have 100 people working in IT."

More precisely, St. Mark's IT crew is 2.5 full-time equivalents.But what the hospital lacks in resources, it makes up for in spunk. Patients who go there can piggyback on the hospital's wireless network and use their portable computers--now there's a concept! And then there are those flat-panel TVs. T

hey may not seem like much, but patients remember little touches of customer service like that. And at St. Mark's, they are indeed remembering: After taking the plunge with the new technology, Oliphint reports, the hospital has seen a substantial up-tick in business.

Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at

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