Important to find right tech and investment balance
Centralising brings host of benefits
IT may come as a surprise to some that the Qualitas Medical Group Sdn Bhd, which operates a chain of 90 clinics around the country, is currently migrating to cloud-based services.
When asked how that is going, executive director Karim Dhala exchanges looks with Dr Junaidi Ismail, associate director of medical services, and laughs nervously.
“We are just starting the migration; ask us again in six months,” he says.
The migration to the cloud was a natural evolution for the group due to the rising volumes of data and increasing network demands.
To Karim, technology has always been part and parcel of healthcare, just that now that relationship is deepening. At the same time, he says one has to find the right balance between investing and relying too much on technology.
“While it is a very powerful tool, you want to be careful that you don’t become too dependant on it. While I say this, at the same time, you also cannot under-invest,” he says.
If that sounds a bit confusing, Karim is really saying that each company has to look at its own operations and see how technology can serve as a tool to make the company operate in an optimum way and to serve its customers better.
He estimates that Qualitas has to date invested above RM1 million into its tech operations. It began its foray into using technology with a clinical management system back in 1998. This was being used by a small clinical group which Qualitas had acquired.
Liking what it saw, it took the bold move of expanding the solution to roll it out through the group.
“We actually did our own development and added some modules like patient registration and the dispensing of medicine which then got integrated to our backend systems like accounting and billing, and our management information systems (MIS).”
The idea was to have a one-time key-in of information which then flows to various other related workflow processes. Qualitas wanted to get away from the manual printing and faxing that went on throughout its clinics which would flood into HQ from where the data would be manually keyed into a spreadsheet before it was processed.
While one would think improving on and expanding the basic clinical management software they had to one with these functionalities was good enough, in 2004, Qualitas went one step further by getting a software company in India to rewrite a clinical management system based on its particular requirements and business model.
“It was a company in Bangalore that specialises in healthcare. The solution we got in the end was totally integrated, including to our central buying warehouse,” says Karim.
It was initially written on Microsoft Corp’s Visual Basic programming language and then moved to the .NET platform, and now is about to become web-enabled – that is, via cloud computing.
Thanks to the smart use of technology, what used to take weeks and months today takes 30 minutes to process, as everything from Qualitas’ 90 direct clinics and over 100 partner clinics is done online and sent to a central server. While those servers sit physically in their HQ, with the current migration to the cloud, those servers will soon be gone with the data sitting in the cloud.
Centralising everything brought a number of benefits to Qualitas, explains Karim. “We were able to monitor trends in drug prescriptions and identify volume buying opportunities. We wanted uniformity in prescribing drugs for certain illnesses and we wanted to maintain low inventory levels.
“The latter was important because in the past, drugs sitting in stock would pass their expiry date, some would go missing and doctors would forget what they had ordered and would re-order drugs!”
With most of its operations in synch today, Karim is a happy man indeed. Having 1.2 million patients going through its clinics a year, Qualitas has to invest in technology with an eye to improving service levels, he says.
“You have to always be thinking about how to add value to the customer and to provide a more competitive proposal to our clinics.”
In fact he says that Qualitas, which has a four-man IT team, is even ready to go real-time and will do so when the market is ready for it. “We have asked some hospitals but they do not think patients nor doctors are ready for it,” he says.
An example of this is a patient scheduling system that will help visitors to private hospitals book their slots to cut down on waiting time.
As usual, technology has to wait for humans to catch up to what it can offer.