Dental network builds Azure data extraction tool


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news Microsoft revealed this week that Australian dental network Dental Corporation had built a tool using its Windows Azure platform which allowed it to extract data stored in dental practices around Australia, in what the software giant is billing as a case study of its ‘hybrid’ cloud computing concept in action.

Dental Corporation was founded in 2007 and makes it is business to acquire and partner with what it describes as ‘high quality’ dental practices. Dental Corporation specialises in taking responsibility for accounting, payroll, support staff, equipment, and maintenance, leaving dentists to focus on their patients. The company currently has around 190 clinics and 560 dentists on its books and was bought out by health insurer BUPA in May 2013.

This morning Microsoft announced that the company had implemented a Windows Azure hybrid integration tool to help consolidate finance and patient information from its 220 individual practices. The cloud-based solution leaves medical professionals with their own preferred systems, while generating the data Dental Corporation needs to make its businesses more efficient, and patient services more “flexible, accommodating, and proactive”.

According to Microsoft, Dental Corporation’s business model has proved highly successful, but every time the company acquires a new practice, it also acquires different practice-management systems. As a result, financial data arrived at the head office in various formats — from email to spreadsheets — requiring multiple staff members to manually input data, which meant company month-end reports could take up to six weeks to complete.

“We wanted to build an electronic picture of every patient’s dental health and habits that could in turn deliver better healthcare, and help turn Dental Corporation from being a reactive to a proactive service provider,” said Kellie King, executive manager for Group Business Systems and Services at Dental Corporation. “We’re taking the concept of intelligent, life-long healthcare forward, because one part of healthcare always knows what the other is doing.”

With help from cloud-solutions integrator Breeze, the company decided on a hybrid cloud model to extract essential data from each practice without altering their existing systems. Breeze installed its Cloud Data Manager package on each practice network. This product contains a data-extraction program coded in .NET which allows the appliance to identify activity on the practice network, replicate changes, and forward them via a URL to a service bus hosted in the cloud with Windows Azure.

“We put our energy into mastering the basic principle involved: developing a flexible integration layer that can be seamlessly deployed in any practice,” said King. “Now, we can go into each dental practice and install one small appliance that the professionals don’t even notice. It means we can search for and extract all the data we need to run a multipractice health business-including patient records.”

The service bus consists of a data-processing engine, powered by Microsoft BizTalk Server 2013 that integrates all the practice data. Then the data is staged, cleansed, and consolidated before being formatted into standard reports and sent from Windows Azure to a database at the Dental Corporation head office.

With one of the first hybrid cloud solutions in the Australian health services industry, Dental Corporation and Microsoft partner, Breeze have broken new ground in health service systems integration. “Because all the data integration occurs in the cloud, the solution is easy to expand. At the dentists’ level, there was absolutely no pain, and therefore no resistance, and with the integration layer hosted by Windows Azure in the cloud, we can scale up without costly, large-scale IT projects – we are bringing practices in at a rate of 10 per month,” said King.

By sharing patient data in a way that results in minimal disruption, Dental Corporation is helping to pioneer seamless collaboration between health services organisations. As a result, the firm’s parent company plans to adopt the solution to help build its integrated patient-care services.

I love this case study. And no, Microsoft is not paying me to say that. I love it because it illustrates the best of what Information Technology truly can be. What we’re seeing here is new generation IT solving legacy IT problems in an incredibly efficient and productive way.

Everyone knows that medical practices such as dental and doctor’s surgeries have their own arcane systems. The medical practitioners themselves are usually quite familiar with their workings, but typically they’re quite old, based on the PCs in the medical centres, and don’t play well with other IT systems.

What we’re seeing here is a great solution where Dental Corporation is using a cloud computing pipe to suck the relevant data out of those systems, leaving them in place. It’s a great solution because it lets the medical practitioners continue to use the systems they are comfortable with, avoiding a troublesome upgrade to something new. On the other end of the pipe, the big company, Dental Corporation, gets the data it needs — and it’s done automatically, without the need for (much, I assume) manual intervention.

This is what modern day IT should be. Let people get on with their work, while using good technology behind the scenes to get the bigger picture work done. I’m sure the whole project hasn’t been as rosy as Microsoft has painted it in this media release, but the fact that the project has made it into a case study of this nature illustrates that it is largely succeeding. I’d like to see more examples of this sort out there. It’s this sort of innovation which gives IT professionals a reputation as being wizards. When IT people get it right, sometimes they really do get it really right.


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