Prescription: Aramco

The world's largest oil producer has just released its co-developed pharmacy solution for commercial sale, as revealed in last month's ACN. Eliot Beer asks Aramco's partner, T-Systems, about this unusual development.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  May 1, 2006

|~|aramco-pic-200.jpg|~|Al-Zayyat: We designed the SAM&P system to ensure the right medication is prescribed, in the right dose and at the right time.|~|Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil producer of Saudi Arabia, and the organisation which is responsible for around a quarter of the world's total oil reserves, has announced the commercial release of a pharmaceutical and medication software system it developed with Austrian integrator T-Systems.

This slightly incongruous statement begs a number of immediate questions, not least of which is: 'Why is Saudi Aramco developing pharmacy software?'. The answer to this, and most of the other obvious queries, lies in the sheer size of Aramco, and the particular needs and dynamics within its IT infrastructure.

Historically, Saudi Aramco has always maintained a large and well-equipped infrastructure for its employees and their dependants, who may number up to half a million, according to some estimates. Part of this infrastructure consists of medical facilities of all sizes - Aramco runs five hospitals
in total.

"Some years ago, Aramco looked to replace its legacy healthcare system, and eventually settled on SAP after working with an alternative package for a while," says Inna Mlada, head of consulting and project services at T-Systems' Health Services division. She goes on to say that she visited Aramco's Dhahran headquarters in 2002 to help implement the SAP for Healthcare and the clinical system i.s.h.med.

Following this project, Mlada says Aramco's IT department were keen to implement an IT system for dealing with some of the issues around medicating patients. According to Aramco, much of this desire came from seeing a 1999 study, 'To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System', published by the US Institute of Medicine.

This report highlighted the dramatic number of deaths and illnesses caused by medical errors; two US studies suggested that medical errors are responsible for at least 44,000 deaths (possibly as high as 98,000) annually in the USA, more than car accidents or breast cancer. Of these, at least 7,000 are attributable to medication errors, with an estimated resultant cost of around US$2 billion each year in the US for all medication errors, whether fatal or not.

IT and medical staff at Aramco wanted to institute systems and procedures to help eliminate this problem from the organisation's medical facilities. They turned to T-Systems as their integrator, but while development was scheduled for an appropriate system, it was not due to be developed for some time to come.

"There was some negotiation for around six months, because Aramco wanted this product sooner than T-Systems could deliver it, but eventually we came to an agreement and started development of the system in around May 2003," says Mlada. "The project phase ran up to May 2004; we were developing the solution in Austria, with some Dhahran staff there as well. In May 2004, we moved the project to Dhahran to finalise the development - the project went live in December 2004."||**|||~||~||~|Mlada says Aramco staff are now handling the continuing rollout of the new pharmacy and medication system - called Saudi Aramco Medication & Pharmacy (SAM&P) within the oil company - largely by themselves, with very little input from T-Systems.

The design and testing of the project involved around 400,000 patients, 600 doctors, 3,000 nurses and 150 pharmacists, according to information from Aramco. This was in addition to the 20 IT professionals from the oil giant and T-Systems who worked on the SAM&P project.

The aim of the project was to create a system which would integrate with a hospital system at every stage of a patient's stay, and deliver timely and integrated information on medication. Mlada gives the example of a patient being scheduled for surgery; when the booking is made in the system, SAM&P will alert to change the medication instructions for the patient to ensure compliance with any 'Nil By Mouth' or similar pre-surgery requirements.

Similarly if a surgeon wants to bring the patient's booking forward, the system will prevent this if the patient has had any inappropriate medication too recently. The system can also highlight possible allergy information and details of drugs which may interfere with each other automatically, instead of a doctor or nurse having to consult a patient’s written records.

"We designed the SAM&P system to provide doctors and other medical personnel with a tool they can use to ensure the right medication is prescribed, in the right dose and at the right time," says Ahmed M. Al-Zayyat, general manager of Aramco's SAP Computer Centre, the organisation that dealt with Aramco's end of the development. "We are pleased to announce that it is the first of its kind in the world."

After Aramco and T-Systems completed the project, the two organisations began working on the system as a commercial product. This stage lasted until 2005, as the product was readied for sale to other users, integrating with i.s.h.med 6.00, the latest version of the software available.

There is nothing new in end user organisations developing (or co-developing) a system which is then turned into a commercial product, but for an oil giant such as Saudi Aramco to develop a system far outside its scope is unusual. T-Systems' Mlada also says that it is not reasonable to compare Aramco's activity with other companies that have developed commercial packages.

"There have been other cases where end users have had a hand in creating commercial systems, but not on the same scale as Aramco has done with this product," she says. "The medication project was very, very large; you cannot compare it to other projects like this."

The new commercial medication control system went on general release late last month. T-Systems representatives say they have had some interest in the product, but nothing concrete at this early stage. But with the potential to save thousands of lives, as well as reduce costs and increase efficiency, Aramco and T-Systems may just have struck (black) gold.||**||

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