Microsoft brings context to GE joint venture

A context management system recently installed at Macquarie University Hospital in Sydney is part of the technology Microsoft is contributing to the joint venture it is developing with GE Healthcare.

In addition to its Amalga unified intelligence system, Microsoft is contributing its single sign-in (SSO) and context management technology to the new company.

Called Vergence, the technology makes signing in to different applications more streamlined for clinicians, and also allows users to select an individual patient's name in any application and to bring in information from other applications concerning that patient without having to log in and out.

Mark Parrish, director of Microsoft's health solutions business for Asia Pacific and the Middle East, said the Vergence technology was developed by a company called Sentillion, which Microsoft acquired in 2009.

“It does two things – single sign-on so that whatever systems you are allowed to access you do in one sign-on,” Dr Parrish said. “A lot of healthcare providers have different systems that they load on one workstation and you have to log on to each separately.

“It also does context management, so if you are say in an imaging system and you see that Mrs Smith's bones look at bit weak, you might want to see what her calcium levels are. So you click a little button in the imaging system, using this context management system, and it will bring up her laboratory results, in context.

“I think that will increasingly be seen in healthcare as it is a really simple way to improve workflow and to make clinicians happy.”

Vergence can also bridge the gap between applications that use the HL7 Clinical Context Object Workgroup (CCOW) standard and those that don't, according to David Dembo, Asia and Pacific business development executive for Microsoft's health solutions group.

CCOW is the primary standard protocol in healthcare to facilitate context management.

“Our customers use Vergence to reduce the number of clicks needed to pull up a patient's information and to ensure that the same patient is displayed in each of the systems you have open,” Dr Dembo said.

“This is a great thing if you are trying to improve end user satisfaction with your IT systems and has an obvious patient safety issue too.

“Vergence can build bridges for both CCOW-enabled and non-CCOW-enabled apps so customers have the flexibility of not being at the mercy of individual vendors to enable single sign-on or context management.”

Microsoft is also contributing its Amalga unified intelligence system (UIS) to the joint venture. This technology is different to the Amalga hospital information system (HIS) technology that it sold to Orion Health recently.

The Amalga UIS is a data integration and amalgamation platform, Dr Parrish said.

“Imagine a series of boxes and each box represents hospital information systems, HR systems, imaging systems, laboratory systems, prescribing systems. Alongside these are the systems that help healthcare users to do their day to day business – look after a patient, pay a bill, process an invoice, order something online, work out your rostering, take an x-ray and report – Amalga HIS would be one of those.

“With Amalga UIS, imagine a long rectangle underneath all of those boxes. It's what we call a data aggregation platform. It doesn't replace those systems – it enhances them. What it does is take a copy of every single bit of information in those transactional systems, as soon as the transaction occurs, and allows you to see it. That's where we think the value is.”

Dr Parrish said Amalga is data agnostic and will take any data from multiple vendors, whether it is text, video or image.

“The way that Amalga is designed is in a slightly different way to your traditional data warehousing solutions,” he said.

“Amalga will take any information and what we will be doing is trying to display that information, so that for instance if you have blood sugar measurements in three different systems all about one patient and those three different systems will record those blood sugar measurements in a different way, Amalga will enable you to pull all of that information in and graph it, so you can plot and track it.”

GE will be providing the technology to enable users to see this information in real time. GE's Qualibria system allows users to aggregate information from existing systems within an organisation and standardises the aggregated data into common terminology.

It will also contribute a health information exchange technology called eHealth.

“We are trying to get health information to flow around the healthcare system and trying to make sure it is useful,” Dr Parrish said. “What GE brings to this is an ability to then view that information and do things with that information.

“The simplest analogy I have is imagine that Amalga is a bit like your mobile phone. And the stuff that GE brings and we hope our partners bring are the applications that you would run on your mobile phone or your tablet PC.

“We are used to buying apps now and downloading them on a platform. We see Amalga as being the platform on which you run those apps. It's great having all of this data altogether in one place, but then you need to do things with it and we think that if we and GE – the platform and some applications that will allow you do things with all of this data – then we will encourage other IT developers to develop separate applications which will ultimately help use that underlying data.”

Dr Parrish said this was already happening, with the recent development of an app called readmissions manager. This app is useful in hospital systems that are penalised by funders for patients who are readmitted unexpectedly within a certain period, he said.

“If you want to prevent readmissions there are a number of indicators that patients have which are likely to predict whether they are going to be readmitted in a certain time – if they are older, if they have a number of co-existent conditions, if they are on a number of medications, if they have just had some surgery, if their blood pressure is at a certain level.

“That is often information that is kept in different transactional systems but if you put that into Amalga, and you put this little app in, it is always monitoring those predictors and scoring them. It says 'I know that when the score goes over 100, the patient is likely to be readmitted, and I'll tell somebody about that', by text message or email or in a report. And that's what it does. It's really clever.”

The as-yet unnamed new company will launch in the first half of 2012.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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