University Health Network outsources its data centre

The University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto announced on Monday that it is extending its IT outsourcing contract with Hewlett-Packard Canada to focus more on its core competencies. The six-year, $18-million contract will now include, among other things, support for UHN’s data centre.

The UHN, which includes Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital, has over 800 beds, 29,000 inpatient cases, 950,000 clincal visits, 876,000 ambulatory visits and 73,000 emergency visits. At that scale, Matthew Anderson, vice-president and chief information officer at UHN, said it was unreasonable for it to support its IT internally.

“We are a hospital, we’re not an IT shop,” he said. “We’ve been moving down the path of outsourcing for the past ten years now.”

UHN has had a contract with HP for the past five years for its help desk, desktop services, network services, Microsoft Corp.-based servers and utility e-mail, but it has decided to include a larger scope of services. It will now also outsource support for its wireless and virtual private network initiatives to improve accessibility and expand access to information beyond the hospital walls, as well as support for its data centre and its Unix-based servers, which includes its critical e-health records, Anderson explained.

The UHN has a fully electronic patient record of all its critical information such as lab results and medication history of its patients. Even x-rays performed at the UHN are digital. The agreement will see this data centre move out of the hospital setting into HP’s facility in Mississauga, Ont.

“The issue would be…how do you support an environment like that and focus on patient safety,” Anderson said, adding that the reason the UHN adopted electronic health records was to provide better patient care, and those benefits would only be realized if the records were contained in an environment that was highly available and supported.

“Also, given how far we’ve progressed with our electronic records, we need as good service at midnight as we would get at noon,” he said.

With its long-standing relationship with HP, Anderson said the UHN felt it was ready to entrust the vendor with its data centre. The reason it didn’t hand it and its Unix servers over to HP in previous years was because it wanted HP to prove itself.

“The trust level is there now and we are ready to hand it over,” he explained.

HP Canada’s Wally Hogan, director, managed services, said HP is very focused on the health care sector and it has invested significantly in providing highly effective and highly secure managed solutions.

“The health sector has realized there is an option to improving their service delivery rather than undertaking huge capital investments themselves. Through working with HP they can take advantage of this shared infrasturuce,” Hogan said. “This is really in concert and very much aligned with the e-health agenda in the province [of Ontario] and we see this very much as a trend, we see this very much as the future.”

HP said the fact that the UHN has moved its data centre to the Mississauga location could also pave the way for future collaborative relationships with other health care organizations sharing the data centre location.

This is the second large-scale Canadian health care outsourcing contract HP has secured in the past three months, the company said. In February, HP announced that it had completed the first stage of a 10-year, $30 million outsourcing deal with Ontario’s Smart Systems for Health Agency.

This fact, UHN’s Anderson said, helped to solidify its decision to move to HP’s data centre.

Eventually, the UHN plans on adding extra services and functionality with a focus on three main areas: application-level functionality; wireless connectivity; and establishing a more redundant infrastructure. From a wireless perspective, the UHN currently has about 13 buildings across three campuses and only two of those are fully wirelessly enabled, Anderson said.

“Over the life of this contract, virtually all of the campuses will become wireless,” he said. He added that the UHN would eventually include handheld devices into its network as well.

Anderson said the transition of the data centre, which began earlier this month, has been smooth so far. The UHN expects the data centre to be fully functional at HP’s facility by September.

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