The world of healthcare is moving toward a day when doctors and patients can freely and securely access medical information and applications remotely using nothing more than a Web browser -- and Silver Cross Hospital is on the forefront of that trend, according to its CIO.
For about a year, the Joliet, Ill.-based nonprofit has been using Oracle infrastructure software to provide physicians, clinicians and employees with remote access to the hospital's health information system, electronic health records, archived pictures and other medical data. And looking ahead, said Matt Ebaugh, Silver Cross's chief information officer, the hospital is committed to one day letting patients access their medical records online as well.
"We really believe that [online] personal health records is where we're headed and we want to be able to provide that feature," Ebaugh said.
Why Silver Cross chose Oracle...
Silver Cross began looking into portal and infrastructure software vendors right after Ebaugh joined the hospital's staff last February.
The staff knew they wanted a platform that could support multiple vendors' applications. And, after dismissing a host of smaller vendors from the evaluation process for being too closely tied to proprietary healthcare information systems, Ebaugh and company found that they had whittled the list of potential candidates down to three: Oracle, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
Microsoft and its Sharepoint collaboration software ultimately failed to make the cut because Ebaugh didn't get the feeling that the company was truly committed to the healthcare industry.
"There have been times when [Microsoft] really appeared like it was going to get involved and really use its resources to change healthcare," Ebaugh said. "But that would kind of peter out and a lot of times what you were left with was a non-supported solution."
Ebaugh and his staff also disliked how Microsoft seemingly tried to tie everything into its SQL Server database management software.
"If you wanted to use, let's say, an Oracle Database or Sybase or something to that effect, which does exist in healthcare, it became somewhat difficult," he said. "It always seemed to be easier if you're [standardizing on Microsoft] as opposed to trying to retrofit Microsoft to something else."
Ebaugh found that Sun Microsystems had "a great platform" but they just didn't do enough to cater to the healthcare marketplace.
"Because Oracle has PeopleSoft and some other tailored products for healthcare, we felt a little bit more comfortable with Oracle," he said.
…even though Oracle's not perfect
But, Ebaugh added, Oracle is by no means perfect when it comes to serving the needs of the healthcare community. In addition to offering particularly expensive products, he said, Oracle suffers from one of the same problems as Microsoft in that it doesn't always seem fully committed to healthcare providers.
"Oracle [needs to] recognize the smaller players in healthcare that might be progressive and that in turn means really starting to focus on better pricing and better support, because there are times where it seems like they too also dabble [in healthcare]," he said. "It kind of waxes and wanes depending on their global view, so we really need them to start developing the healthcare vertical much more robustly."
Silver Cross's medical information portal -- which is currently being used by hospital staff as well as outside physicians who conduct business with the hospital -- was built with Oracle Database 10g, Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC), Oracle Application Server 10g, Oracle Portal and the Oracle Identity and Access Management Suite, Ebaugh explained.
But the road from planning to portal wasn't traversed overnight. The first thing the hospital had to do was perform an intensive audit of all its systems.
"The first step was really understanding our architecture," Ebaugh said, "and really going through our inventory and determining what we needed to do to place either the application or the data on an Oracle portal solution."
Next the hospital had to build out the RAC database. That was a time-consuming process which Silver Cross outsourced to a third party. Silver Cross also proceeded to build out the Application Server and incorporate BAM plug-ins, which enabled the hospital to start modeling workflows and ultimately design how the system would be used.
The software "really does a lot more than just simply doing a presentation layer portal," Ebaugh said. "There is a lot of functionality that we have not tapped and it's all built on the 10g platform, which obviously is Silver Cross also deployed Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g to manage and monitor the servers in the portal environment, Ebaugh said.
Another key goal for Silver Cross is building out a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to truly help it leverage applications from various vendors and ultimately better serve physicians in the community.
"Most organizations that go with SOA in healthcare are trying to solve something within their health system, because they may be a best-of-breed shop or they're trying to work on multiple platforms," Ebaugh said. "We're actually trying to do this now not only in the hospital space, but as well in the ambulatory space to get the physicians linked in."