Canadian hospitals use online collaboration to cut surgery wait times

“Sorry you just have to wait,” are words parents with children who need surgery just dread hearing.

Now they may not have to hear these ominous words so often if the new online collaboration tool adopted by Canadian hospitals – led by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) – achieves its desired objective.

Typically used by businesses to clear communication bottlenecks, the tool is already supporting faster and more secure online collaboration and communication between personnel at Sick Kids and 15 other hospitals across Canada.

It is based on Microsoft’s SharePoint Server 2007, a browser-based integrated suite of capabilities that support collaboration, information sharing and document management.

In the case of Sick Kids and the other Canadian hospitals, the extranet module developed by Envision IT, a Mississauga, Ont-based business automation firm, supports the hospitals’ wait-time reduction program.

The ability to communicate through such a dedicated portal has also minimized the need for hospital personnel to fire e-mails back and forth through disparate systems.

The portal provides easy Web-account creation and management, secure socket layer access for all users, password management and lost password retrieval.

This initiative, it is believed, will help remove some of the obstacles to the Wait Time Guarantee project announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last year.

That project focuses on six key areas: cardiology, cancer, neurology, sight, spinal deformity, and dental procedures requiring anesthesia.

However, effective collection and sharing of information is vital to any strategy to reduce surgery wait times in these areas. And in the past, this process was hampered by the cumbersome online communication channels used by the hospitals involved in the project.

“Before the implementation, staff members from various hospitals communicated largely via e-mail,” recalled Wanda Yu, SharePoint product manager for Microsoft Canada.

She said this process was prone to errors and caused considerable downtime.

At times, she said, messages did not reach intended recipients, various hospital systems didn’t interoperate, and it was difficult to determine if the person who had to be contacted was available.

Also, the fact that many personnel working on the project operated in different time zones was quite a challenge, according to Daniela Crivianu-Gaita-Gaita, chief information officer at Sick Kids. Tracking document changes and versions was also very difficult at the time, and team members were only exchanging e-mail messages.

All that has now changed…dramatically.

Since online communication and collaboration were moved over to the new portal, hospital workers have been able to store and work on documents from a single location, said Crivianu-Gaita.

“The portal provides an easier way to archive documents for quick reference, retrieval and editing.”

The system also has a tracking and security feature that monitors the document’s various iterations and ensures only authorized personnel can access appropriate versions.

Team members working in different locations no longer have to play telephone or e-mail tag. SharePoint alerts users if the person they want to talk to is available or not.

“These features significantly reduce downtime,” said Crivianu-Gaita. Time saved, will in turn, speed up the development of a more effective wait time strategy.

SharePoint 2007 was also used by Ontario March of Dimes (OMOD), a non-profit organization helping disabled people, to move away from manual paper-based form processing.

The organization, which serves more than 37,000 individuals in about 70 communities, uses SharePoint to develop templates for more than 400 different forms which can now be shared online.

Use of collaborative enterprise tools by many not-for-profit organizations and small and mid-sized businesses is expected to rise further in the near future, according to a Toronto-based technology analyst.

“Efficiency and cost savings are two compelling reasons driving organizations to adopt online collaboration applications,” said Carmi Levy, research analyst and senior vice-president of AR Communications in Toronto.

These tools help standardize application development and enable organizations to avoid “re-inventing the wheel” each time the need to create a service, he added.

While SharePoint is the current leader in the collaborative space, Levy said, other notable players are IBM’s WebSphere and Groove Network Inc.’s Groove.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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