How an IT project got personal

Few IT projects get personal.

But Colin Wright is working on an application for Ottawa Hospital that started when his wife was being treated for ovarian cancer. He hopes it will lead to fewer women around the world suffering from the disease.

Wright, senior partner of SysteMagic Software

Solutions of Ottawa, and his staff are just finishing several months of effort for the hospital building a wireless-enabled database so medical staff can record and analyze patient information. Called the Gynecology-Oncology Services Ovarian Cancer System (GOSOCS), the hope is it will be adopted by other oncology units across the nation.

The project started in March, when the oncology department’s chief surgeon told Wright of his frustration that all patient personal, medical and pharmaceutical information is held on paper, although the institution is filled with some of the best high-tech medical equipment in the world.

“”He said it sickened him to say he didn’t even know how many women had died of ovarian cancer in his care last year,”” Wright recalled.

There is no early detection case for ovarian cancer. More than 2,600 Canadian women are diagnosed with it every year. There is no single early detection test. More than 1,500 Canadian women die of the disease each year because the symptoms are often vague. However, if caught early and treated, the survival rate is as high as 90 per cent.

The surgeon told Wright he’d been looking for years for a database to collect and scrutinize data. In Wright he found a willing ally. SysteMagic, the company he and his partners created three years ago, has developed a Web publishing and transaction application called Magician which would be a key to creating GOSOCS.

Wright proposed building pilot application for the department. He got Microsoft Corp. to donate copies of SQL Server, Windows Server 2003 and its .Net framework, which would help other institutions connect the application to their systems, Hewlett-Packard Canada to provide wireless access points, Tablet PCs and Pocket PCs for the wireless portion, and Hummingbird Ltd. to donated business intelligence tools.

GOSOCS lets oncology staff input all patient data, from their names to the latest test results. With wireless, it also lets a patient’s team members gain immediate knowledge of a patient’s condition. At first, said Wright, some didn’t grasp the technology’s potential, such as its ability to enter data automatically in separate forms. Before long GOSOCS had added modules, such as treatment scheduling, the staff had only dreamed of.

The wireless link was the trickiest part. Initially equipment using the 802.11a standard, which operates in the 5Ghz range, was tried. However, interference limited its range. Coverage was extended to an entire floor only when lower frequency 802.11b-based access points were tried.

Still, “”getting a (IT) system implemented in a hospital is not any easy thing,”” said Dr. Tien Le, a surgeon in the unit and the hospital’s project director. “”We had to meet a lot of people and push it through.”” But last month he said the nearly-finished pilot had been approved for full implementation. Hospitals in Toronto are interested in it, he added. Meanwhile, the CGI Group used the scheduling module in a bid for a Cancer Care Ontario pilot in Kingston, Ont.

Wright, who estimates SysteMagic put $90,000 worth of work into the application, has been urging suppliers to lower prices so it won’t be painful for other hospitals to install. He hopes a complete solution will be less than $40,000 for server hardware, the database and OS, but not wireless devices. It could be lower for university-affiliated hospitals, who are eligible for discounts.

“”I lost my wife to ovarian cancer, and I think this is really necessary. If we can find something that makes other people’s lives easier, we’re going to do it.””

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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