Extending patient care

Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) — Canada’s biggest hospital group with 1,200 physicians and more than 800 beds at Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret hospitals — understands the value of out-sourcing as well as any private-sector enterprise.

As part of a six-year

deal signed with Hewlett-Packard Canada in May, UHN is stepping up its commitment to outsourcing by handing over the crown jewels of its IT department — data centre and e-patient records.

The privacy and security issues that swirl around this kind of transaction would confound most private-sector enterprises, but not UHN.

“”Outsourcing our data centre and e-patient records will increase patient safety,”” says CIO Matt Anderson.

How is that possible? To begin with, HP can provide better protection against viruses and hackers. But perhaps most importantly, it provides full data redundancy, making it virtually impossible for e-patient records, which contain medical histories and X-ray images, to become suddenly unavailable.

“”We have surgeons operating on patients with the aid of computer-screen images,”” says Anderson. “”That’s as real-time access to information as it gets. In that kind of environment, you cannot afford to have an IT failure.””

In addition to its data centre and e-patient records, UHN is adding the management of its wireless infrastructure to the list of outsourced services. The total price tag is expected to be about $60 million over the life of the contract. Under HP’s utility-based model of computing, however, it could turn out to be less, because clients typically pay for only as much of a service as they use.

Wally Hogan, managing director of HP Services Canada, says the key to making outsourcing work for vendors and their clients is leveraging economies of scale.

“”You don’t need to own or lease your own data centre,”” says Hogan. “”The cost of that facility can be distrib-uted among a number of customers.””

The same goes for high-priced IT expertise and fancy IT tools that monitor servers and networks, but he stresses that while HP’s customers may share a common address, they do not share hardware.

Anderson says his decision to sign this latest deal with HP was made easier by the fact that in 1998 UHN successfully off-loaded a variety of IT services, including PC desktop support, server and network administration and e-mail, to a company since acquired by HP.

“”With the first deal we were pretty confident, but not totally confident,”” says Anderson. “”This time we knew we wanted to outsource more.””

The deal with HP may result in some cost savings, but Anderson stresses his main motivation for outsourcing, in addition to boosting patient safety, was to improve overall service levels, and free himself of a few nagging human resources issues.

“”If we want to implement a new IT project, we just go ahead,”” says Anderson. “”If it results in increased demand for our help desk, HP has to take care of it.””

Anderson oversees a staff of 100 IT professionals. Under the first deal in 1998, 12 people were transferred to HP. Six are expected to go to HP this time, and another six will be laid off.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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