Pilot phase planned for medical IT managed service

26 Oct 2005

A pilot scheme to deliver ICT as a managed service to Irish general practitioners (GPs) is being developed with first results expected early next year, siliconrepublic.com has learned. One doctor in general practice from each of the 10 Health Service Executive (HSE) areas throughout the country will be selected to take part in the technology trial.

Medicom, a Dublin-based developer of software for the primary healthcare market, has formed a strategic alliance with BT Ireland to deliver ICT services to GPs as a managed service. It is believed this service will simplify the management of ICT for doctors, giving them more time to focus on patient care.

“Currently a doctor has to buy servers, cabling, networks, power supplies and software applications – everything you need to run a small business,” explained Medicom CEO Howard Beggs. “In future, in a managed services environment that will be available imminently. This whole ICT element will be available as a service with one monthly bill, covering all telephone, mobile, email, software, hardware and upgrades.”

According to Beggs, everything that a GP’s practice would need for its ICT requirements could be supplied by a single source. “There’s huge cost efficiency for the practice and it removes the IT knowledge overhead that the practice needs to run its business,” he told siliconrepublic.com. “In theory, a practice won’t have to worry about buying hardware ever again. The idea is, we take that headache out of the picture.”

Under the managed service model, a GP’s patient data would be stored centrally at a server farm operated by BT Ireland. A further advantage of this approach is that the application software – for example, the GP’s patient management system – would be hosted from this facility. As such, any upgrades to it would be made there and apply instantly to every doctor’s system. It also means that any new applications could be made available to all GPs instantly once they are launched. The traditional model for software distribution involves upgrades being manually performed at every customer PC – a far more time-consuming process.

Beggs acknowledged that some GPs may be concerned by the fact that their patient records will no longer be located on a server in their surgery. “They need to be demonstrated how much more secure and safe their data is,” he said. When the 10 GPs have been selected for the pilot scheme, over the next fortnight, they will then be brought to the data centre facility and shown where the servers and software are to be hosted.

Some contractual details remain to be finalised but the technology is ready to be deployed, said Beggs. An offer to participate in the pilot scheme was “oversubscribed”, he added.

Participating GPs with existing IT equipment will be able to simplify their infrastructure, as they will no longer need to use servers at their surgeries, said Beggs. “A practice computerising for the first time wouldn’t even have to go down the route of buying large amounts of hardware,” he pointed out.

The applications can be served over broadband to thin client-type systems, allowing doctors to simplify the PCs that they use in their practice. According to a recent Medicom survey, 40pc of doctors with computerised systems have broadband internet access.

Beggs added that this service complements the HSE strategy to develop a national patient record. “This is technology delivering and facilitating life saving,” he said. “This infrastructure is being built, it’s available and now that our pilot is beginning, you can see it as the start of the national healthcare system.”

By Gordon Smith