Making Medicine Tech Savvy

University Health System CEO George Hernández leads the charge on three projects that will meet the health-care needs of South Texas

The new one-million-square-foot trauma tower at University Hospital opens in April 2014. The facility provides a better patient experience and modern health-care services.
George Hernández
Photo by Oscar Williams

With one of only 15 Level 1 trauma facilities in Texas, University Health System has a big job to do serving South Texas. Partnering with the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio to provide exemplary care, president and CEO George Hernández knows that top-notch physicians need complementary facilities, which is why University Health System is investing in three key construction projects: a Tier 3 data center, a one-million-square-foot trauma tower, and a six-story clinical building on its historic downtown campus. He shared with HE some details on each and why University Health System, proudly owned by the people of Bexar County, was primed to be the premier health system in South Texas.

1. Tier 3 Data Center

When you consider doctors using robotics to perform surgical procedures and lasers replacing handheld instruments in the operating room, it seems easy to label health care as an industry led by innovation. But not every aspect is so technologically advanced. Before physicians can treat patients with the latest gadgets, they need information about their patients that is detailed and accessible. The latter is where the industry has traditionally fallen behind, and where University Health System’s $20 million data center is ramping up efficiency.

“The industry has been slow in large part because it started off like a cottage industry,” Hernández says. “Physicians had their own practices, and the systems to keep records electronically were expensive, so the move from paper to e-records has been delayed.”

Ideally no stretch of distance or time would impact a doctor’s access to patient information. Like ATMs, data centers house information that can be extracted and transferred remotely and instantaneously. “All the major banks and department stores have Tier 3 centers in different parts of the country, so if there is a disaster in one place, their data is secure in another,” Hernández says.

Since 2006, University Health System has been transitioning to e-records and training staff with a multitude of software. As technology has advanced, so has the health system’s tool kit. With at least 100 programs to computerize the record-keeping and transferring process, Hernández says it’s standard now for his doctors to not only have patient information at their fingertips, but for them to turn that information into a graph or chart with the tap of a tablet. “The end result is better patient service,” he says.

Consistent with his commitment to technological improvement, Hernández put together a master facility planning team, in 2006, to comprehensively look at how the health system needed to grow to meet the expanding needs of Bexar County and South Texas. That planning resulted in support from the system’s governing board and the Bexar County Commissioners Court to expand access to comprehensive care at the Robert B. Green Campus downtown and to construct a state-of-the-art trauma tower at University Hospital, the region’s leading Level I trauma center.

Up Close & Personal


George Hernández

What language would you like to learn and why?
I would like to learn ancient Greek. It’s a great foundation language for scientific and technical English words.

What is your favorite Latin American dish, and where would you go to get it?  I love the food from New Mexico. One of my favorite dishes is simple enchiladas in a red chili sauce made from dried Hatch chilies. The enchiladas are stacked like pancakes and topped with chopped onions and grated sharp cheddar cheese. I make this dish at home.

What is your favorite book?  The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell are three of my favorites.

What is your favorite part about your job?  
An academic medical center is a complex organization with a huge potential to improve the health of a community. I enjoy working with so many people who do great things each and every day. I like my role as a facilitator and coach best.

2. University Hospital Trauma Tower

The existing hospital, while structurally sound, reflected the standards of its time—the 1960s—when two-bed, semi-private rooms were an upgrade and computer compatibility had not even been conceived. “The new tower is a tower like no other,” Hernández says. Standing at 10 stories tall and two football fields wide, the tower houses 420 private inpatient rooms, 35 operating rooms, 84 emergency center beds, and three rooftop gardens.

The private rooms not only provide a better experience for patients, but Hernández explains that they also improve patient privacy, infection control, and hospital efficiency. In the old layout, communicable diseases could hold open beds hostage in rooms with contagious patients. Taking advantage of technology where possible, the tower is equipped for image-guided procedures, and it makes University Hospital among the first hospitals in South Texas to use pulsed-xenon ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms between patients.

Beyond the services the tower will provide when it opens in April 2014, Hernández is proud of the impact it has already had on South Texas. “San Antonio wasn’t hit by the financial crisis as hard as other parts of the country,” he says, “but building this hospital provided thousands of jobs for our community.”

3. Robert B. Green Campus Clinical Pavilion

Hernández takes pride in University Hospital as a nationally recognized academic medical center with signature programs in trauma, transplants, neurosurgery, and cardiac care. But the planning process revealed that superior service is diminished by a lack of accessibility and convenience. The new clinical pavilion, which opened in January of 2013, addresses the problem.

“The project had to accomplish four objectives,” Hernández says. “High-quality health care was nonnegotiable. It had to be customer-friendly. It had to be efficient. And, because Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country, we needed to improve access.”

Patients might visit one such facility to see their primary care physicians, but if they should need an X-ray, CAT scan, or another exam the clinic is not equipped to provide, they would have to travel to the hospital first. Not only does this slow care to outpatients, but it overcrowds the hospital and cuts down on physician-to-patient time.

The six-story pavilion with an adjacent pharmacy was designed as a hub for all of the health system’s outpatient clinics in San Antonio, and as a specialty care and outpatient surgery center. Offering preventative health, primary- and urgent-care services, it is a one-stop shop for patients needing radiology, nuclear medicine, and comprehensive lab services.

“Most of what we do as a health system is out in the community,” Hernández says. “We see about 1.6 million ambulatory visits each year. To the extent possible, we want to keep people healthy and out of the hospital. If we can treat people in a better environment that’s closer to home, faster, and cheaper for them, then we want to take advantage of that opportunity.”