What ailed health agency's upgrade?
- By Julekha Dash
- Aug 16, 2000
A health agency in California invested three years and more than $12 million
on a software system intended to better capture patient information. But
the software hit numerous snags along the way, and the agency wound up with
software that takes weeks longer to collect payments.
Analysts and users said the situation highlights how poor project management
can delay software implementations and interrupt business processes.
Maya Altman, deputy director at San Mateo Health Services Agency, a California
county government health-services provider, said the $12 million includes
money spent on software, network upgrades, data servers and hardware, including
900 new desktop PCs.
The agency also hired as many as 30 consultants whose cost Altman couldn't
In September 1997, the agency signed a seven-year, $11 million contract
with Shared Medical Systems Corp., Malvern, Pa., to install and customize
nine applications, including pharmacy, laboratory, patient registration
and billing applications.
But the system, which was also designed to make billing more efficient,
has increased the time it takes to collect payments from an average of 75
days to 119 during the past year. Also, the agency still doesn't have a
common patient registration data repository, so caregivers don't know if
a patient receiving mental-health services may have also received care in
Nevertheless, Altman said that even though the goals of the system haven't
been met, the agency is still better off than it was three years ago, when
it had 40 stand-alone systems.
Mark Anderson, a vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc.
and a former hospital chief information officer, said that such software
failures are relatively common in the health-care industry because IT leaders
typically aren't part of a hospital's executive team.
So what went wrong at the health agency? For one thing, San Mateo was under
deadline pressure to install the system prior to Jan. 1. That meant hiring
consultants at a time when demand and costs for IT services were at their
peak, Altman said.
To complete the work on time, the agency had to shorten training and systems
testing. Simultaneously working on Year 2000 projects, upgrading the network
and installing major software overstrained the agency, Altman said.
"We're definitely not blaming SMS. We had management issues of our own,"
— Distributed by IDG News Service.