Health matters

The healthcare industry has seen dramatic changes over the past year as technology mandates have revolutionised the industry. Imthishan Giado checks into Oasis Hospital, which is midway through the process of renewing its decades-old infrastructure

Tags: HealthcareInfrastructureOasis HospitalUnited Arab Emirates
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Health matters PERFETTI: Vendors responded with several files full of documentation, from which we extracted the responses. (Khatuna Khutsishvili/ITP Images)
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By  Imthishan Giado Published  December 13, 2009 Arabian Computer News Logo

Over the last year, CIOs have had to swallow one very hard pill. It's been a lesson washed down with the sour taste of brutal budget cuts and scalpel-precise reductions to staff. It is quite simply; to innovate and never get left behind in the mad race for progress.

While the former titans of banking and real estate are now grappling with vast projects that face innumerable delays, the companies that are climbing out of the recession successfully are the ones that are proceeding down every dark and dangerous path they can find, looking for a technological solution that isn't simply business as usual.

Healthcare is one vertical that has prospered, particularly in the last 12 months; after all, morbid though it sounds, there will always be a surfeit of ill people and an aging population is equally a guarantee of future business. To that end, hospitals across the region have been shaking off their lethargy and rapidly adopting technology, moving to paperless systems that promote a freer flow of information and, with greater access to medical histories, can potentially cut down on misdiagnosis.

One such organisation is Oasis Hospital based in Al Ain, in the UAE. With a history that stretches back nearly half a century, the privately-funded institution has begun the difficult process of revamping its infrastructure to bring itself to the forefront of the region's healthcare providers.

Luis Perfetti, director of information systems, explains the firm's old infrastructure: "Our main application is the hospital information system application. It was built by ourselves in the last six years. We have other applications like Great Plains from Microsoft for finance and HR. Most of our users and our operations go on the hospital information systems (HIS) - I would say 70% of our users work on the system, which has a lot of administrational operations and workflow. Then we have a lot of other minor software for the different areas like service desks, quality and so on which integrate into the main system."

His team consists of five full-time staff, supplemented by a continuous stream of interns from local higher education outfits such as the Higher Colleges of Technology and the UAE university. A team of consultants is also available for the new project, which is nothing less than a complete replacement of all the hospital IT systems. This drastic step includes replacing the Great Plains modules with Oracle applications and a brand new hospital information system from French medical specialists MAIDIS. The system also necessitated the requisitioning of 20 physical servers from Dell, which will operate in a virtualised VMware environment.

He explains that planning for the project started back in 2006: "We started deciding that our current system which we had been using needed to be expanded. Vendors were invited in June 2007, we got the responses back by September. We did the demos by December 2007. Final decision was taken somewhere in June 2008 but the contracting part took much longer than what we expected. We ended up signing the contract at the end of December 2008."

It's certainly an ambitious plan - but then, as Perfetti puts it, the hospital had no choice if it wanted to continue providing a high standard of care.

‘You go in to see a doctor about a cough. One gives you syrup, the other one gives you five antibiotics. That's a problem - what is the standard of care? You need to set some guidance and protocols that the organisation agrees that these are best practices so that everybody will follow the same thing. With the hospital information system that we have been using, as you get more into patient care, you really need a lot of development. We realised that we couldn't keep up with the development that we needed with our current team. So we decided to get a solution that has been proven and really incorporate best practices from different hospitals," he explains.

Where art thou, Cerner?

As one of the biggest names in healthcare IT. no one was surprised when Cerner submitted a proposal for the infrastructure renewal project. But as Perfetti relates, they priced themselves out of the running.

"They did bid in our project, but their price range was way up from what we needed. They are bringing all their experts from the US and putting them up to live in Dubai, with high expenses. That automatically runs up the price of the product by several millions. Of course, the government can afford to spend in a project millions of dollars but we cannot afford that - we are a not-for-profit organisation so we have to be very careful," he warns.

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