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Software // Enterprise Applications
04:02 PM

Uptick In Care

Application integration helps Sutter Health take patient care up a notch

Five years ago, John Hummel decided he wanted best-of-breed applications for every function in his company. As senior VP of information services and CIO of Sutter Health, a nonprofit network of 33 hospitals with 4.5 million patients in Northern California, his strategy was to invest heavily in building a single engine to serve as the master integrator for his entire business-technology universe, including doctors, specialists, lab technicians, and, of course, patients.

Hummel's first challenge was making a case to Sutter's board of directors for a massive boost in IT spending at a point when most of the company's competitors were cutting back. But time proved his case, and the investment is paying off.

John Hummel -- Photo by Angie Wyant

Sutter's projects include a virtual emergency room, CIO Hummel says.

Photo of John Hummel by Angie Wyant
Sutter's interface engine lets a broad range of applications, from accounting to customer records, communicate and share data, and it makes further innovation quick and easy. Today, Hummel's projects include a virtual emergency room where specialists can treat patients at other hospitals, a bar-code system for distributing the right medication to the right patient, and an intranet that connects physicians to patients, all working through the single engine.

Sutter purchased the interface engine technology in 1999 from Century Analysis Inc., now a Sybase Inc. company, and used it as a hub between applications. Hummel's team then built a methodology that lets it copy any interface and bridge it across the engine to communicate with other applications. So Sutter's enterprise-resource-planning system from Lawson Software readily exchanges data with the picture archive and communications system from Siemens Medical Health Services, and the pharmacy application from Mediware Information Systems talks to the in-patient electronic-medical-records application from Eclipsys Technology.

While thousands of messages pass through the engine flawlessly each day, Hummel still keeps a close eye on new technologies that might make the process even better. "As we started seeing more developments in XML, Simple Object Access Protocol, and Web services, we put them into the engine so that we can be sure we have whatever we need to work with future vendors," he says. The new technologies have transformed the interface engine from a messaging center to a middleware layer and prompted Hummel to upgrade the system. He swapped the Century Analysis engine for an eGate integration platform from SeeBeyond Technology Corp., running on an IBM SP 690 RISC AIX High Availability Frame.

In the end, it's all about moving to standards, which Hummel says will happen within the next five years if he has anything to do with it. "We're a large shop in health care, and we want to be a good influence on vendors by saying, 'We're staying with XML, and we want you to stay there with us,'" he says. "We have to influence vendors in ways that will help not only us, but the health-care industry as a whole." Hummel prequalifies vendors and short-lists those that have middleware such as XML or Soap.

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