University Health Network extends HP services contract

Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) Monday announced an expanded outsourcing deal with HP (Canada), a move it hopes will advance the use of electronic health records province-wide

and ultimately improve patient safety.

And it hopes other organizations will quickly follow suit.

According to UHN CIO and vice-president Matthew Anderson, one of the biggest barriers to being able to share information with other health care organizations is the lack of robust electronic health records systems.

“”We hope as more organizations come into this HP environment that robust electronic health records will become more affordable options for more organizations — with an emphasis on robust,”” he said. “”A lot of people are buying electronic heatlh records (EHRs) but they can’t afford the level of redundancy and processing power to make them robust and the service costs that go along with that.””

The UHN, which comprises Toronto General, Princess Margaret and Toronto Western hospitals, is in the process of moving 150 servers to HP’s Mississauga, Ont. data centre. HP is also providing the rest of the network’s server support, as well as support for its wireless and virtual private networks, and utility e-mail (e-mail based on a per-mailbox basis). The UHN has more than 11,000 employees, 3,100 students and 1,200 physicians.

Although the UHN is technically three sites, it is one corporate entity. And it doesn’t have the resources required to keep up with the huge range of demands each of its hospitals poses, said Anderson.

“”Those all have very different information requirements and levels of criticality,”” he said. “”For example, we have a completely digital medical imaging department, and if those images are not available in the family practice clinic, it’s probably not that big of a deal, but if you are a patient on the operating room table and the surgeon is cutting based on those images, it is a big deal.””

The UHN also has a sophisticated laboratory medicine program in which hundreds of different pieces of equipment, each with its own software, has to be supported.

“”Trying to support that type of environment with our internal resources is totally not practical,”” said Anderson. “”This is particularly acute for teaching hospitals. Our physician community wants to be on the cutting edge of medical development so they’re not going to be satisfied with a vanilla-flavoured information system. Our information environment is pretty dynamic and we needed somebody who could manage that.””

And while there are many advantages to the deal for the UHN – although neither side would reveal the cost of the agreement — the clincher was the fact that Ontario’s Smart Systems for Health Agency, which was created to provide a secure, integrated, province-wide IT infrastructure allowing instant electronic communication among Ontario’s health care providers, recently signed a 10-year, $30-million IT outsourcing deal with HP as well.

“”That was a huge reason why we selected HP, because the SSHA was already there,”” he said. “”We really feel health care … is a very, very large industry but we’re so fragmented we’re not taking advantage of that. As other organizations come in and they need (similar) services, then you have the healthcare organizations working together presenting themselves in a more organized fashion to the private sector marketplace and they can take advantage of those economies of scale.””

Anderson said the move to the HP data centre is being staged over five months and conducted mostly on weekends or hours when there is less demand for applications.

“”Many of our applications are mission-critical only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so those applications are relatively easy,”” said Anderson. “”For example, our payroll system doesn’t need to be up 24×7.”” When the servers are being moved, though, users have to resort to using a paper, manual system, he adds, as they would when scheduled maintenance is being conducted.

But returning to a paper system is not even an option if the system that runs the UHN’s electronic health records goes down, which is why it is trusting HP’s reputation and experience, says Anderson.

“”We are now on a fully electronic health record, and we don’t keep a paper copy,”” he said. “”If our EHR is down that represents a huge risk for patient safety. It’s definitely easier said than done, and HP has demonstrated they can do the job, so that’s why we signed up with them. I consider this service agreement our No. 1 strategy for reducing risk in patient care.””

According to Wally Hogan, managing director, HP Services Canada, HP is in conversation with a number of other health-care organizations interested in a similar arrangement.

“”Our focus is very much in the health-care sector, especially as it surrounds the e-health agenda the government is moving through, and to that end we are in conversation with a number of health care providers across the province,”” says Hogan. “”There has been significant interest based on the progress the SSHA has made.””

Hogan says public sector customers are increasingly attracted to outsourcing and the facilities and skills HP can provide because it allows them to take advantage of investments the private sector has already made.

“”One of the big advantages in this business is that customers can leverage a shared infrastructure and reap the benefits that have been invested in that infrastructure,”” he says. “”The infrastructure involved is not just the assets and the buildings but also the people, so they’re taking advantage of that whole picture.””

Health care organizations looking for investments in a data centre looking for greater security and information privacy have the opportunity to get something that can be leveraged across multiple institutions rather than spending capital and building out new facilities for themselves, he adds.

Despite the recent controversy related to HP and the Department of National Defence, however, in which HP agreed to pay the government $146 million to settle a contract dispute, Anderson isn’t worried.

“”We did talk to them a little bit about it,”” he said. “”We understand what happened there and it’s really got very little to do with the services we’re working with. Most of the people at HP we’re working with we’ve had a longstanding relationship with for many years. It’s unfortunate what happened with the DND situation but I think it’s going to make HP more diligent in how they’re operating with their subcontractors. But outside of that I didn’t find it was directly relevant to our (situation).””

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