Canadian medical lab says new messaging system just what the doctor ordered

Greater messaging reliability and valuable time savings are crucial benefits BC Biomedical Laboratories Ltd. (BCBL) experienced since its move to a new e-mail messaging system based on Microsoft Exchange Server.

Time spent on administering the system by as much as 30 per cent, said an organization spokesperson.

Canada’s largest physician owned lab, BC Biomedical is located in Surrey, B.C., and employs more than 650 personnel.

The lab conducts around 430 different kinds of medical tests for some 1.5 million patients annually.

Two years ago, it migrated from an IBM-based communication system to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 messaging client.

Since then, the lab has upgraded to Exchange Server 2007.

The previous e-mail system – based on Lotus Notes and Domino tools from IBM – wasn’t meeting the lab’s collaboration needs.

For instance, the earlier system, didn’t offer basic XML transaction functionality and handheld device communications capabilities, said Nick Szirth, CIO at BCBL.

He said compatibility issues interfered with exchange of e-mail messages between PDAs and e-mail clients.

“The bottom line is there was no guarantee any PDA or scheduling system would work with our system.”

Until the Exchange Server deployment, Szirth himself had problems connecting to the BCBL system with his mobile device, an HP iPAQ 2790, which sat in his drawer unused for a long time.

The laboratory, which maintains 45 patient centres throughout the Lower Mainland area of B.C., frequently interacts with physicians and their patients through e-mails.

This process required strong XML functionality for lab results to be delivered quickly and securely.

The mix of custom and standard applications in the Lotus and Domino system, made for cumbersome communication, said Szirth.

“It was very difficult to get some applications to receive messages and then transfer them to physicians, who needed to be alerted about lab results in a timely fashion.”

The use of PDAs is pervasive among health practitioners but BCBL’s old system was having trouble communicating with these devices, said Philip De Connick, manager at Compugen Inc., the technology advisor that helped enhance the laboratory’s e-mail system.

Exchange Server integrated collaborative messaging features such as scheduling, contact and task management capabilities.

The product also supported mobile devices such as pocket PCs and smart phones and enabled doctors to synchronize their Inboxes, calendars, contacts and tasks list so that they could check appointments or important information, De Connick said.

He said integration between Lotus Notes and BCBL’s PDAs and other calendar scheduling devices did not exist prior to the migration.

Once in place, the new system’s interoperability with BCBL’s tools commenced allowing doctors and patients to send and receive time-sensitive data quickly and reducing wait time for lab results.

Staff familiarity with the Outlook interface also meant that minimal training was required.

“Our personnel know the environment so well. Outlook works just as you would expect all Windows applications to work,” said Szirth.

Simpler user interface and system manageability cut down associated labour costs. “We achieved time savings of up to 30 per cent for people administering the system.”

Between themselves Microsoft and IBM shared the greater portion of the e-mail server market, but interface features of Lotus Notes “stagnated” causing users to turn to Exchange Server’s more familiar interface, said one technology analyst.

However, while Microsoft Exchange Server might enjoy a larger share of the e-mail server market, Lotus Notes has made improvements to its offerings in recent years, according to Vince Londini, research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

“Exchange Server has taken the lead and is the de facto industry standard, but Lotus Notes is not dead yet.”

E-mail and calendar management are the strong suits of Exchange Server and Outlook but the most recent version of Lotus Notes and Domino incorporate features that make the system equal if not better than the Microsoft offerings, said Londini.

For instance, he said, Lotus Notes now has a full suite of e-mail applications and has greater flexibility to enable unified communication and connection to workplace social networking sites such as corporate Facebook.

The IBM product also allows creation of widgets supporting instant messaging and a has mash-up of functions for creating dashboards that streamline e-mail registry management and speed up file sharing.

A large advantage of Exchange Server, though, is the system’s ability to leverage its inherent interoperability with the large pool of Microsoft offerings. “For most users this large eco-system means more choice,” said Londini.

Organizations considering a switch over to Exchange Server should evaluate their network needs and the prevalence of Microsoft applications in their network, he said.

“If you have enough Microsoft synergies, Exchange Server could be for you. But if e-mail and fire sharing is your only concern, Lotus Notes and Domino is a compelling choice.”

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