Health-care organizations take team approach to IT

A group of Ontario health-care organizations have banded together to provide a continuum of care by establishing integrated IT services and teams.

Toronto-based Bridgepoint Health recently joined the seven-month-old partnership, which also involves the University

Health Network, the North York Community Care Access Centre, St. John’s Rehabilitation Hospital and the Toronto Community Care Access Centre. The participating organizations are creating a shared IT service with the goal of offering 13,000 health-care workers to access patient records online. Potential benefits include seamless referral processes, reduced duplication of patient information and standard protocols for treating conditions.

Steve Banyai, CIO at Bridgepoint, a provider of complex and rehabilitation health-care services, said the partnership is also expected to be a general tonic for the organization’s 30-odd IT staff by providing them access to a range of interesting IT projects across the other organizations.

Banyai said IT departments always lose staff through attrition and turnover. “What we hope through the partnership is we can keep good IT staff employed for a longer, keep them stimulated and interested by having a lot of projects.”

The project will also allow Bridgepoint’s IT staff to offer leadership to some of the other organizations in the partnership, Banyai said, particularly the CCACs, which have less developed IT infrastructures.

“We were in a unique position because unlike the other partner organizations, we already have a fully developed information strategic plan and an information management strategic plan,” he said. “What we are able to bring to the table is similar to what the UHN has done, which is to offer our IT staff the opportunity to expand and work with other groups who might not have access to resources.”

UHN chief information officer Matt Anderson said several thousand patients are referred across the participating organizations each year. The partnership wants to help clinicians get access to information when the patient comes over. “Now they do not, or they get faxed, which is usually a very incomplete picture of the information they need,” he said.

The participants are not planning to move to common applications because each has its own business model, Anderson said. Instead, they are looking at building a common messaging and integration layer that will allow information to be exchanged, probably via portal technology, that will allow them to view information from each other’s repositories.

“The more strategic initiative of exchanging information between organizations tends to get overridden over time by local demands for service,” he said. “Our thinking is, if you have one team responsible for both types, then you ensure one doesn’t necessarily override the other.”

If one group is responsible for making sure PCs and networks are up and running, for example, that group will tend to focus their resources on fixing immediate problems, rather than on the longer-term benefit of developing an information exchange capability with another organization.

So far, the system is working – but not without its challenges. All the groups except one have remained on their own payroll systems, which, he said, is probably not sustainable in the long run.

“But we’ve seen a lot of these initiatives die on the rocks on trying to sort out all that logistical stuff, so our feeling was why don’t we try to start with trying to deliver some value to the players?” he said. “Then when we get into all the logistics stuff it might be a little easier to get through it.”

The UHN is a particularly advanced centre when it comes to IT, but St. John’s is a bit of a green field when it comes to clinical systems, Anderson added. While that lack of clinical systems makes it easier for the partners to design the system – they’re more or less starting from scratch -– “the flip side is we’ve got to get the system in place, which takes time and money,” he said. “The CCACs are somewhere in between, so they have some systems some are quite robust and some are kind of crappy. That has been a challenge for us and will be an ongoing challenge over the next two years.”

Anderson said the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and Ontario’s Smart Systems for Health Agency are happy about the partnership.

“Most of what (we’re doing) runs off the SSHA network,” he said. “I think this has been well received by SSHA and the ministry because it’s organizing the marketplace a little bit for them, and by interacting with one group they’re interacting across the sector with multiple institutions. It becomes a much more efficient way for them to do business so they’re pleased about that.”

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