Canadian hospitals cure integration malady with CRM tool

The push to upgrade electronic health systems has been a boon for hospitals and patients but implementation is not always seamless. Developing interfaces to disparate systems and new applications take time and money – two things that most hospitals have in short supply.

William Osler Health Centre in Etobicoke, Ont., and the Winchester District Memorial Hospitalin Winchester, Ont, found the Microsoft’s BizTalk Server 2006, a product primarily used by business for their customer relations management IT needs, a fitting solution to their problems.

“Application development was always a bottleneck because of the extended wait times we had,” according to Ricky Zomparelli, manager of the project management office for 608-bed hospital .

The hospital previously employed a third-party interface engine. The outsourced labour meant that internal IT staff did not have to bother with application development work and setting up interfaces with various users.

Unfortunately, this meant the hospital was at the mercy of the middleman when it came to setting deployment schedules. This set-up was not ideal when a move towards automating various hospital procedures began in earnest a few years ago.

“It took six to 12 weeks just to get the hospital on the provider’s development queue. When you need to deploy multiple applications in a short time, that just won’t do,” Zomparelli said.

After a vetting process, the hospital decided in November last year to deploy BizTalk Server 2006 as their integration engine. Now the product handles the facility’s primary message routing and business execution platform.

The system enables health professionals and staff to pull patient data from the hospital’s core data system seamlessly regardless of the application they are using. William Osler’s development staff is also starting work on new applications for its energy department, food server system and clinical engagement.

“Now, we own the development process and save money too,” according to Zomparelli.

In the previous set-up, William Osler paid the third party anywhere from US$6,000 to US$20,000 for every interface they developed.

A monthly maintenance and operation fee of US$1,500 per interface for each point of access was also charged. With as much as 50 access points for applications covering areas such as diagnostic and pharmacy equipment, the cost can add up.

Creating interfaces in-house resulted in faster turnaround times and zero development and maintenance cost.

A much smaller facility, the 55-bed Winchester District Memorial Hospital used BizTalk to upgrade systems such as its admission, discharge and transfer (ADT system to comply with newer Health Level 7 (HL7) standards.

HL7, is an international standard for the exchange, management and integration of healthcare information to promote efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery.

“Reducing the amount of time physicians spend searching for information is an important part of this strategy,” according to Chris Brakel, product manager, eBusiness, for Microsoft Canada Co.

When Winchester was built some 20 years ago it had no IT infrastructure. Today the challenge is to deploy technology that can reduce wait patient wait time by creating an enterprise patient master index that can be shared across the region, said Sean O’Brien, chief technology officer for the hospital.

“Our previous ADT system does not have the ability to take us to the next wave of technology,” O’Brien said.

For instance, whenever the hospital needed to deploy a new application, unique demographic information for patients had to be re-written for the new vendor.

The small facility, however, did not have the budget to deploy or train IT staff to handle an expensive system.

With its recent deployment of BizTalk, the hospital found there was no need to “retool our IT shop,” said Brad Genereaux, senior systems analyst.

He said the system came with easy to manage tools that required minimum retraining on the part of IT administrators or immediate users. “The system functions well in the background and we have had to negative feedback since deployment last June.”

Now BizTalk provides staff an automated interface to information such as patient records and schedules, lab availability and supply inventory greatly improving operational efficiency.

For example, O’Brien said, a physician can easily check the lab availability and schedule lab work so that he could ensure that blood or other test results for a patient will be ready when he meets his patient.

“This simple advantage means a lot of difference to the patient who might have to endure a re-schedule,” O’Brien said.

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