Mashup uses SaaS apps to staff hospitals during hurricanes

Doug Menefee, CIO of the Schumacher Group, a company that provides staffing to hospitals, is a fan of software as a service (SaaS). More than 50 per cent of the company’s software runs on a SaaS model, and he is using both to track the contact information of providers and is in the process of rolling out Google Apps to give employees basic productivity tools from any work station with a Web-browser in any hospital.

But he has also been able to capitalize on the agile development cycle associated with SaaS – the idea that updates and small tweaks can be done quickly – to build an application that helps the Schumacher Group track the whereabouts of their physicians during a hurricane and determine which hospitals could be in danger of being understaffed.

Schumacher’s hurricane tracker is a mashup – the word used to define an application where data from two or more disparate applications are combined into one unified view for the end-user to see. Menefee and his team conceived the app during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and built and tested the first version during Hurricane Rita shortly thereafter.

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“Our corporate headquarters [in Lafayette, LA) were not hit, but we could see the hospitals getting affected by the hurricane, and our physicians who live in the area who have families to worry about too,” he says.

Hurricane tracker became the answer. It relies on a few different data points. One is data from Schumacher’s application, which includes information about where providers live and what their primary contact information is. Another is an application called Tangier, a physician scheduling SaaS app from Peake Software Labs. On top of Google Maps, the mashup feeds in data that shows the hurricane’s location and predicted path.

The first version was created in 60 hours, Menefee says. But it didn’t include the scheduling app (Tangier), which Menefee and his primary developer added to the mashup during Hurricane Dolly in what he calls version 3 of the hurricane tracker.

Tangier allows him not only to see who is scheduled to work at the hospital, but just as importantly, who is not scheduled. This becomes pertinent because if a scheduled physician lives within the hurricane’s path, he or she will be first concerned with taking care of their family and home. If an unscheduled physician is not in the hurricane’s path, users of the mashup can click on their name (which appears as a P for physician) and their contact information from will then pop up and hospital administrators can call and ask them to fill in.

Because Google Maps and other SaaS-based apps work with open Web-based application programming interfaces (APIs), Menefee says that he and his primary developers can field requests from hospital administrators who want to add functions to the app (such as the scheduling).

“The sense of reward that we knew we already had the information, it was one of the best developing experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “We were just creating it in 45 minute design cycles. It shows you the flexibility of SaaS.”

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