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Parkway chooses to build new IT system

After using SAP for five years, Parkway Group Healthcare appoints an Indian software company to help develop a new system.

Managing the IT needs of three hospitals with different user requirements can be a major challenge, and the tight project deadlines often do not allow for detailed requirement studies to be conducted

But Parkway Healthcare Group's General Manager Kenneth Thean believes that nothing is more valuable than getting the feedback of the people who work the systems and processes the most.

The group is currently working on a new healthcare information system which will manage the hospital and patient information for private institutions East Shore Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Targeted for completion by 2007, the application will replace its existing SAP software.

When work on the system commenced last year, Parkway wanted the project to be user-driven and assembled staff from different work functions, such as nurses and physiotherapists, Thean told ZDNet Asia in an interview. The team members were picked based on how well they knew their work, as well as their ability to communicate and interact with colleagues from other departments.

"Many of the people who sat down are involved in the business processes on a day-to-day basis," said Thean.

He added that they had innovative ideas. The team looked at how other hospitals managed information and introduced ideas that made their jobs "easier and more efficient", he noted.

Getting users involved in the decision-making is not new at Parkway. According to Thean, different heads of department met to discuss and offer input for an IT roadmap drawn up for a three- to five-year period. There is also a dedicated steering committee, which includes non-IT personnel, that meets regularly to discuss issues related to the Parkway's IT infrastructure and needs.

Even though the hospital chain recognizes that it can be very time-consuming to get everyone's wish list, Thean said that ultimately the patients and the hospital employees benefit.

To achieve its aim to be a leading medical facility, Parkway needs to ensure that it stays "at the forefront of harnessing medical technology", said Thean. He and his team of about 45 personnel keep up-to-date with technological advancements of leading medical institutions worldwide. A review of the IT roadmap is also conducted annually.

Build or buy
For the new healthcare information system (HIS), Parkway chose Indian software company, Soft Script Solutions. According to Thean, Soft Script is no stranger to application development for medical institutions, having built up information and transaction systems for around 50 hospitals in India.

"We decided to build from scratch because in our previous experience, we ended up taking an off-the-shelf software (SAP) and customizing so heavily that it almost became a new product, which was difficult for the vendor to support," explained Thean. Parkway has been using the SAP system since 1999.

The new system will also integrate Parkway's in-house solution which was developed to automate processes, such as employee leave applications. To facilitate automation of its work processes, the group had also adopted a document management solution from Fuji Xerox early this year.

Smoothening the transition
According to Thean, convincing fellow colleagues to adopt new technology is not an easy task, but with some careful planning, a lot of heartache and stress can be prevented.

Thean pointed out that the hospital chain ensured there were a number of employees trained to use the new systems and who were then put into roving teams to help others learn. A dedicated helpdesk was also set up to manage queries and problems.

Asked if he had any advice for companies undergoing similar IT projects, Thean said they could consider carrying out the migration phase during periods where there would be minimal business disruption, and ensuring users have more time to get used to the new technology.