Chronicles of a Healthcare Information Systems Director

For Rick Sweeney, technology is a way of life. He makes a living by helping people use it better and finds ways to solve problems. As Information Systems Director at Dell, supporting Tenet Creighton University Medical Center in Nebraska, Sweeney knows a thing or two about how technology can make a significant and positive impact on people’s lives. 

Yet, for many, technology is just another part of life; an underpinning world that moves around with us, from the ATM to our mobile device, and everything in between. Technology makes our lives easier, but at times, seems distant and detached, a necessary means to an end.

This is not how Sweeney feels. He is an enthusiast. He sees technology as a reflection of who we are and a way to make a difference. Even in the most difficult moments, Sweeney sees an opportunity to use his expertise to make life a little more tolerable.

In one of the most difficult moments imaginable, an elderly woman was lying in her hospital bed recovering from a horrific car accident. Her pain and recovery were secondary concerns. She had lost her beloved husband in that very same accident and the amount of pain from personal loss, and uncertainty, must have felt unbearable.

Her immediate concern was finding a way to attend her husband’s funeral. She would need to remain in intensive care and she was running out of options. A nurse approached Sweeney about finding a way to make this happen.

“Our day to day task is surrounded by what you do for a patient,” said Sweeney, “We exist because there is a patient in the bed.”

Sweeney and his staff went to work. They set up a laptop next to the woman’s bed and used Skype to provide a live feed to the funeral, using the hospital’s Verizon broadband air card. They also set up a webcam so that she could see the pastor and other speakers, while watching everyone else who had gathered to honor her husband and mourn his passing.

“It wasn’t just so the patient could watch the funeral. It was a two-way communication,” stated Sweeney.

At the funeral, a laptop was set up in the front of the room. As the funeral concluded, a spontaneous “receiving line” formed in front of the laptop webcam. One by one, mourners were able to speak directly to the grieving widow and personally express their condolences.

“In that moment, it changed how we provided support. It changes how you do your job,” said Sweeney. “Technology did something truly amazing for our patient that day. We just used what was there and made it happen. We were willing to do whatever it took to be able to give her the comfort of being part of his funeral.”

Stories like these give us hope that technology will keep evolving to make our lives better. But for Sweeney technology “is” the hospital experience.

“Technology is essential to everything that happens in the hospital,” states Sweeney. “From the time you walk in the front door, whether you are visiting or getting a procedure, you start with the front desk scheduler system. During a procedure, every move the surgeon makes is tracked on a system and allows the recovery room, or the next surgeon, to stay one step ahead and get ready for the patient. Every medication is charted.”

It’s a complex ecosystem that allows the hospital to function at high levels and focus on patient care. Sweeney and his staff were honored to have been a part of a special moment with a patient that needed their help.

As Sweeney states, “We can get all worked up about the daily routine of audits and processes, but then can lose sight of why we are here. It is not about us, it is about those we serve. What technology is designed to do is to provide quality healthcare and the best possible experience for the patients.”

To read more about Dell’s transformation from a hardware-centric company to an end-to-end solutions provider, please check out our success stories website:

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About the Author: Eric B. Smith