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Integrating information at Children's Hospital

This article appears in the issue June 2005 [Volume 14, Issue 6]


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Children's Hospital Boston is using an enterprise data integration system to enhance quality of care, conduct more effective research and operate more efficiently. The hospital, which serves as both a comprehensive care center and a large pediatric research institution, houses an information system that captures and centralizes all of its clinical, administrative and healthcare delivery information.

At the heart of the information system is an enterprise data warehouse that provides timely, consolidated information to researchers, analysts and administrators. Nursing management uses the data to assess seasonal and cyclical trends, for example, so it can better forecast case mixes and hospital staffing requirements week to week. Analysts review the cases of all adverse events--such as falls or unfavorable reactions to particular drugs--to uncover problem sources and improve hospital practices. And researchers can test hypotheses by instantly retrieving data on, for instance, "all patients with whooping cough, treated with drug x, over the past five years."

The enterprise data warehouse was built in 1999 to pool information from numerous, disparate front-end systems, each requiring its own interface. Children's Hospital decided to build its own data integration interfaces, which took more than 18 months of manual programming. Four years later, the hospital found itself renovating the entire project. The front-end systems were almost all being replaced, and the clinical side was in the midst of its own major revamping of systems. Not wanting to manually rewrite the data integration interfaces for its many source applications, the hospital decided to look at off-the-shelf data integration solutions.

Danny Shaw, chief knowledge officer at Children's, saw an opportunity to implement a unified data integration platform that would cut the time and cost of deployment, and enhance the agility of the hospital when faced with future information demands.

"Everything feeding the warehouse was changing so the interfaces had to change too, and that was a daunting proposition," says Shaw. "We liked what we saw when we evaluated packaged data integration solutions. It was clearly time for us to take a platform approach to integration that would promote reuse, consolidate processes, skills and practices on a single solution, and put us in a position to move quickly in the face of growth and change."

Children's Hospital standardized on the Informatica PowerCenter data integration platform as a key component of its system renovation initiative. As a result, all the interfaces were replaced and several new interfaces were created in 18 weeks, rather than the 18 months that were needed to manually create the original interfaces.

"Standardizing on a data integration platform makes what we need to do so much easier, starting with no more C programming or even Java," Shaw explains. "We're infinitely more nimble now. It's as simple as pointing to the data element that needs to be moved, then ‘click' and you're done. Complex data transformations and manipulations are much easier to accomplish. We isolate the most complex pieces and handle them within PowerCenter to cut down the time to delivery."

Shaw adds, "We're capturing virtually everything that happens around here. As a consequence, the audience for the information is growing all the time. We have an almost exponential demand curve as more people want to get on the bandwagon and start asking to do new things with the data. If we had to accomplish this all manually, we'd be up the creek."

Shaw's advice to other organizations implementing similar capabilities is: "Put in place a platform and proceed in small steps." That is especially true, he says, when starting from scratch and when knowledge management is a new concept for senior management.


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