Finding the Needle �

By Allen Bernard

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After years of paying research associates to comb through medical records looking for efficacy data, Boston Medical Center (BMC) is getting ready to take the wraps off a new data integration initiative put in place by Informatica.

The first goal is a laudable one: improve patient care by discovering the hidden trends in patient care reports. The second goal is also laudable, but more form an managerial perspective: save money on these efforts while boosting the hospital's potential to secure research grants, and moving the entire hospital closer to an automated center of care.

"Were very excited by the idea … to be able to better understand the elements of care so we can manage them more effectively," said BMC's CIO and vice president, Meg Aranow. "So this allows us to look at hundreds of thousands of patient records quickly and be able to determine what interventions and practices are yielding the best results."

After reviewing at least four data integration vendors including Ascential (owned by IBM), Dimensional Insight, Aranow and her team decided Informatica's solution would best meld with there existing infrastructure of databases (SQL, Oracle, legacy and others) as well as enable them to find the right local talent to make the project work.

Gartner's Magic Quadrant also played a role. Aranow and her team only considered companies in the upper right quadrant: the "Leaders" quadrant. In the end it was up to the CTO to make the final call.

"He made the call because of this labor force assessment we had done," said Aranow. "Informatica appealed more to the technical side and end-user usability."

It took three months of integration work on the part of Informatica and BMC's internal IT staff to link all 14 of the hospital's separate patient care databases into Informatica's PowerCenter solution. And they are using reporting software from Business Objects to get the results.

"There's certainly some work to move to Informatica but one of the reasons we selected this tool is because it's one of the least invasive to our current systems," Aranow said.

The effort's one Achilles' heel may be these live systems. In October they will implement a small scale pilot to see if these patient care systems, which doctors, nurses and staff rely on to treat patients in real time, will bog down under the added weight of sending information to the PowerCenter data warehouse.

Overall, the system was not cheap costing about 15% of Aranow's capital budget and an additional $500,000 to $750,000 for six or seven new staff. But, if things work out the way they are expected to, BMC will be more automated, provide more efficient and therefore less costly patient care, save money on internal research and paper-based systems, and, hopefully, attract more research dollars.

As far as ROI goes, it wasn't something topping Aranow's list. Hospitals have a hard time showing positive ROI because of the business they are in. But with a little luck, all of the above mentioned benefits should yield positive results sooner rather than later.

"Hospitals are not necessarily stellar examples of getting hard ROI," she said.

Moving the hospital forward technologically is more important than dollars and sense right now and that is why Aranow is confident they are "doing the right thing."