The amalgamation of eight hospitals in Ontario’s Niagara region presented information technology staff with an integration challenge that has taken two years to address and taken the Niagara Health System from an assortment of systems to a common environment.

The new setup uses Meditech

software from Medical Information Technology Inc. of Westwood, Mass., and other applications running on Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Server System.

The amalgamation of hospitals in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and the surrounding area was the last of several hospital amalgamations dictated by a restructuring commission set up by Ontario’s previous Conservative government, said Dale Maw, regional director of information technology and telecommunications for what is now the Niagara Health System.

The hospitals had a variety of hardware and software, including some proprietary servers and operating systems, Windows, Unix, an IBM AS/400, and software from Novell Inc. and others, as well as home-grown applications, according to Maw. “”Honestly, it was fairly messy.””

The systems had to be consolidated and integrated to allow better access to information across the eight hospitals, Maw said. Previously, information-sharing was limited. Today, “”if you showed up in the emergency room in Port Colborne two weeks ago with chest pains, that visit history could be seen at Greater Niagara when you show up with a headache.””

Maw said the health system chose Meditech because “”there’s relatively few health-care information systems that are out there that can meet the needs of a corporation our size.””

Spokesman Paul Berthiaume of Meditech said his company’s software is used in hospitals of all sizes, from 50-bed rural facilities to the largest hospital complexes.

The company has 38 per cent of the health-care software market in Canada, he said, and that figure rises to 49 per cent if Québec, where Meditech does not sell, is excluded from the mix. Meditech recently signed a deal for its software to be used in seven of Alberta’s nine health regions, he said.

Since the Meditech software runs on Windows, that choice led to the selection of Windows 2000 Server. Client PCs run Windows 2000 Professional. One consistent operating system platform was needed across the organization to keep support costs manageable, Maw said.

Jordan Chrysafidis, director of Windows server systems at Microsoft Canada Co., said the support of third-party applications such as Meditech’s is important to Windows’ success.

“”We recognize that the value to the customer is in the applications, and so we work extensively with our (independent software vendor) channel,”” he said.

Jeff Wilson, senior technical analyst for back-office systems at the Niagara Health Region, said consolidating an environment that included more than 15 Windows domains as well as Novell domains and other systems was a challenge. It took three to four months just to analyse the existing infrastructure, he said.

Then the team created a new Active Directory domain and began migrating users. This had to be done in stages and planned carefully to avoid disrupting operations, Wilson said. The entire process took about 12 months.

Chrysafidis said maintaining a single directory with Active Directory simplifies system management, reduces total cost of ownership and makes it easier to manage across multiple locations.

New applications can now be added centrally, Maw said.

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