It wasn't enough that the IT department at Northshore University HealthSystem built a data center that allowed the three hospital complex northwest of Chicago to be one of the first in the world to accomplish a paperless medical records system–for which it was recognized by the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society with the prestigious Nicholas E. Davies Award in 2004.
Now it intends to build what amounts to an identical system at a new data center in Skokie, IL and connect it using IBM's HACMP/XD replication technology to ensure that no images are ever lost in the radiology department, no electronic patient record ever goes missing, and that recovering from a disaster at one data center or the other amounts to no more than a minor interruption of service for the more than 500 physicians employed by Northshore University HealthSystem and the larger community of 1,700 physicians who admit patients to its three hospitals.
Northshore University HealthSystem's award winning IT infrastructure is an IBM mainframe and open systems environment that it acquired and installed with the help of IBM Premier Business Partner Logicalis. More than a reseller of hardware, Logicalis brings a high level of professional services and expertise to the relationship and has worked closely with Northshore University HealthSystem since 2002. Northshore University HealthSystem's Chief Information Officer Tom Smith says he has counted on Logicalis for specific technical skills to supplement his own IT team's sophisticated abilities and connect it directly to the accumulated technical knowledge within IBM.
"There is often a Logicalis person on site helping us as a technical rep when we've gone live with major projects," Smith says. "We used Logicalis to help us make sure the plans we had for running the DR process were technically feasible." Steve Foley, Northshore's Assistant Vice President of Technical Services added, "We wanted to be sure we could deliver to our physicians what we thought we could. Once you take away paper charts and all the records are electronic, people get very nervous about downtime. That's why we needed a back up plan we can bring up in a short period of time."
"We are doing some unique things on the networking side," says Foley, "and we wanted to be sure we could synchronize data between the two data centers."
The Skokie Data Center project - which also involved a search for a suitable facility in the Chicago metropolitan area -- has been in the making for more than a year. Logicalis worked with Northshore's IT team to pre-configure equipment that moved into the new facility.
"We have worked with Logicalis to get the equipment ordered and to stage it," Foley says. "We know we are going to have to move hardware to the new data center, but we want to use the technology that will enable us to move the data electronically–as opposed to physically–to keep downtime to a minimum."
"IBM products and Logicalis services have done two things for us," Smith says. "They have given us capacity and reliable productivity on production systems during regular operations, and now with the Skokie Data Center, we will have a redundant site for our key patient care systems."
"The biggest technical advance for us was HACMP/XD," Foley says. "That made us feel a lot more comfortable because it was something we could do on an automatic basis, not just on a manual basis. We don't want to have a problem and take 20 minutes calling people and then another hour to figure out what's wrong. We just want it to failover."
An acceptance of the need for a strengthened Business Continuity plan by hospital physicians was key to making the commitment to the Skokie project.
"Once the Skokie Data Center is complete, a user's PC will just re-connect and they will have all the data that was there before on the other system," Smith says. "They'll be able to do their medication ordering. They'll be able to see x-rays. They'll be able to see all the lab results; everything they could do before the outage. If everything goes right it won't make any difference at all in the level of service to our physicians," he adds, and then with some irony, "It's when things go wrong that the DR site will help us."