Blood lines

Zulekha Hospital knew it was taking too long to respond to customers with its online booking and feedback systems. With its new deployment of Blackberry messaging devices, these concerns are now a thing of the past.

Tags: Research In MotionUnited Arab EmiratesZulekha Hospital
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By  Imthishan Giado Published  January 3, 2010 Arabian Computer News Logo

The image of a businessman in a bespoke suit with a Bluetooth headset wedged in his ear and a Blackberry welded into his hand is one that’s familiar to enterprises around the world.

The ascent of RIM’s messaging marvel has been meteoric over the past few years, and it even has its own pejorative – Crackberry – coined to describe addiction to its e-mail facilities.

But until now, one would ascribe heavy Blackberry usage to verticals with a more customer-facing focus, such as the finance or real estate industries. Doctors and nurses using Blackberries would be an incongruous sight; yet that’s exactly what the future holds for healthcare specialist Zulekha Hospital, which has just completed a rollout of the service.

The new Blackberry service is part of the hospital’s continuing upgrade to a modern hospital management information system (HMIS). Ali Asgar Bohari, deputy director of IT at Zulekha, explains how it used to function in the past.

“I joined in 2004. At that time, we didn’t have an HMIS, we were still using manual systems and some software, but it was not that user friendly. Then we started customising an HMIS, with the focus on making the hospital paperless. 2003 was the development stage – we actually implemented it in 2004,” he says.

“When we started the HMIS, we had a lot of problems and challenges. For example, doctors didn’t want to use the software because they are very much used to the old system of writing reports and handing them in. Now doctors are very much IT-savvy and they want to use the software. When they find problems in the software, they immediately call the IT department to find out why it isn’t working,” claims Bohari.

Zulekha Hospital’s IT team consists of ten people overall, with staff evenly split between its two branches in Dubai and Sharjah. After the completion of the HMIS project – which was purchased from Indian vendor MicroPro – the group next turned its attention to providing the customers relations team with Blackberries to improve the responsiveness of their activities.

Bohari further explains the impetus behind this decision: “We wanted better organisation communication between the staff. Before, when they needed to check e-mails, they have to sit on the PCs. Most of the staff does not have the internet at their homes. What we thought was that we should get Blackberries, connect it to our main server and comunications would immediately improve. 

“After that, the next important element was patient service. So we have started Blackberry use first with the management people like the president, the CEO and all the directors. Then we have started with the customer relationship managers. We now have an online appointment system so patients can book appointments straight from the website. The customer relations managers get the e-mails, they can immediately call patients, and the feedback as well as customer complaints. This was the basic idea,” he continues.

Bohari began planning in the system at the end of 2007 in December, and after three months of implementation, it went live in February 2008. The first 30-user version of the project cost in the region of $13,000, and there are already plans to further rollout use of the Blackberries to the more than 200 doctors working in the group, although he admits that this expansion still relies on the team finding a way to integrate the HMIS into the devices.

Gururaj Raj, business development manager at Zulekha Hospital explains the inefficiencies and vagaries of the old system that predated extensive IT usage at the healthcare provider: “Earlier, the practice was that if they received any complaint from the patient, they would be given a paper form, asked to fill it up and e-mailed back to the hospital. It would go through various people. With the new system, the response rate from the people is much faster. Once you complain say about a service or an incident, the response rate from the group has improved very well, across the two hospitals.”

Apart from handling patient feedback, the customer relations  managers also have to deal with booking appointment, Raj continues: “Four years ago, it used to work like a call centre. There used to be long queues. Even from the business side, when we get patients, we used to press them that these were important clients and that they needed to be put on a top priority.

“Then the IT people shifted to an online appointment system. Again, we were stressing them to make it real-time. Once something’s booked, it should stay booked. But then they said that a lot of cancellations happened later. That is always a possibility because this is the healthcare industry,” he confirms.

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