Interview: Houston Medical

Pulse+IT: What products does Houston Medical develop for the healthcare sector?

Houston supplies software to every sector and while we do have a considerable exposure to general practice, our strength is certainly in the higher priced end of the market where we try to provide a lot more bang for a few more bucks!

Houston started in New Zealand in 1988 providing software for physiotherapy where today we still look after about 70% of the installed base. In 1995, at the invitation of a prospective client we developed a fully integrated product for ophthalmology where we are now undoubtedly the market leader in both New Zealand and Australia.

Houston works very closely with the major manufacturers from all over the world. Our exclusive EyeMach(c) interface allows DICOM and other digital images, fields and OCT readings to be viewed on any workstation on the practice network. Our expertise with software for specialists led to an invitation to supply cardiology software for clinics in Darwin and Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide. From this base we now have clients in every state and territory of Australia, as well as Dubai, the Solomons, Fiji and New Zealand, caring for every part of the human anatomy or as I sometimes joke, because of the unique user defined forms, from podiatry to psychiatry Houston does NOT have a problem!

Pulse+IT: What Houston Medical features are new users attracted to?

A fully integrated program, regardless of whether you wish to couple your digital camera or the latest equipment from Zeiss, Topcon, or other equipment suppliers, book patients in DayStay or send an electronic referral or discharge summary, bill or write a letter. It is usually only one mouse click or one key stroke away. For power users we have a bit of a mantra: “From wherever you are to wherever you want to go with only one keystroke!” For hospitals, the Adelaide team have developed a special Java interface which passes selected information to and from the main hospital system, avoiding any double entry. This means that the legacy software (in this case Homer) can share information to and from the state of the art cardiology clinic running Houston.

Pulse+IT: Which competing software products can you import data from?

We have been supplying and installing software in Australia since 1992 and are delighted to say that our first clients are still clients today. During this we have converted over clients from almost all the mainstream products including Medical Director, Genie, Zedmed, RX, Blue Chip, The Specialist, and several more that have now disappeared in the mists of time.

Pulse+IT: How is the data conversion performed?

Depending on the complexity, it can be done by the user with special tools provided free by Houston, or, as with a large Eye Clinic and DayStay complex recently completed in Melbourne, the backups are sent to our engineers who complete a trial conversion, this is returned to the practice well in advance of the go live date. Any errors are noted and corrected and the final conversion is usually done over the weekend so installation is completed before the first training session. We are getting better at this with each new conversion and our most recent conversions have brought over all future appointments, letters, prescriptions, clinical notes and patient balances.

Pulse+IT: Which secure messaging products does Houston Medical integrate with?

We currently fully integrate with HealthLink, CNS and Argus and are developing with Medical-Objects.

Pulse+IT: Does Houston Medical make use of the Australian Health Messaging Laboratory (AHML) HL7 message testing facility, and do you have any plans to have the HL7 message generation and handling functionality of Houston Medical’s products verified by the AHML?

Up until now, we have done all our testing with HealthLink, CNS and ArgusConnect. We find that in Australia there really does not appear to be any such thing as a “standard” and we have had to write an interface specific for each carrier and in some cases with the individual software vendor. Houston is registered with the AHML and it will be interesting to see if their “standard” can be enforced as I believe the secure electronic transmission of health information between providers, just like pathology and radiology are now doing, to be the most important next step. While we can provide integration and a paperless environment within the practice, it is essential that the same concepts can now be provided between practices and this depends on standards being agreed and enforced.

Pulse+IT: Has NEHTA’s work program had an impact on the functional direction of your products, and the strategic direction of your business?

Certainly, as mentioned, Houston passionately believes in standards. We completed an installation of SNOMED CT coding for the SA Division of General Practice and then I delivered the results at a NEHTA sponsored conference. I heard recently that a plumber registered in NSW cannot work in VIC! We are counting on NEHTA not to let that sort of nonsense happen in health.

Pulse+IT: Does Houston Medical interface with other clinical or practice management solutions?

According to Cam Hawke of Carl Zeiss, we were the first PMS package to interface to their new Visupac software. We have a button on the medical desktop called “Software Links”. This allows Houston, with a bit of preparation, to fire a batch file to any third party application, start the application and find the patient information therein.

Pulse+IT: How is training and support provided?

Initial training is done on site by staff from offices in Australia or New Zealand or, if possible we “borrow” skilled staff from other practices to assist. We can bring in experienced practice managers who provide specialised skills that can only be gained over time.

For a recent DayStay installation in Melbourne we were able to “borrow” the manager from a practice in Launceston. If any of our clients would like to register their interest in helping in future installs or even sales, please get in touch!

Pulse+IT: Overview your pricing structure.

Because Houston is made up like a Lego set with different components for different specialities it is priced per practice requirement. As an indication of policy, the client licenses the parts they need and these can be installed as many times as they like at no additional cost as we only monitor the concurrent users.

As the number of users go up, the per licence cost goes down. We don’t mind if access is from the comfort of their home, the laptop or the surgery desk.

Pulse+IT: In addition to the Houston Medical licences, what other costs may customers have to meet?

In addition to the upfront cost there is the monthly licence fee which gives access to toll free support lines and our website where templates and updates can be downloaded. We also subscribe to a Remote Assist service which is provided to clients free of charge and which allows support staff remote access to provide training and support on the client’s own computer.

Pulse+IT: How frequently does Houston Medical release program updates?

As required by government legislation and as improvements and suggestions get incorporated. This means usually between three and four times a year.

Pulse+IT: Is professional IT assistance required to perform these updates?

Only if something goes wrong! We encourage clients to download updates from our website. In most cases it is a simple process of clicking on the install icon and all workstations on the network upgrade, however sometimes expert help is required.

Pulse+IT: What new features are you working on that Houston Medical users should look forward to?

We are just releasing a completely new build, redone from the ground up, aimed at larger practices and hospitals. Built as a three tier application on a Microsoft SQL database in C# with .NET, VIP.NET takes VIP to a new level, allowing a group of specialists, doctors and allied health providers in a mixed medical centre to each have their own unique medical desktop, autotext, letters and billing.

Wish to combine a group of professionals in sexual health, dermatology, diabetes, retinal screening, ophthalmology and cardiology? No problem. Notes can be shared or kept confidential as the doctor and patient desire. Eventually the specialist will be able to allow patient access to their own notes and further development will allow patients and referring providers to access notes, but of course, all governed by permissions granted by the health provider concerned.

I see the next big breakthrough as software as a service, perhaps not over the Internet yet but certainly in the big medical centre. Why not put a big server in the basement providing all services on demand and all the individual practices need to do is to plug the terminal into the outlet just like the electric power or the telephone. All services like backing up, updates and network servicing taken care of by experts in their field. While still to be proved, and I hope not too far ahead of its time, that is where VIP.NET is aimed.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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