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Up in the Clouds

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  • | 8:13 a.m. April 22, 2011
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Pranam Ben believes the challenges of developing successful electronic medical records systems aren't technical, they're personal.

Technology people, of which Ben is one, can create systems to capture, store and disseminate all sorts of medical information. But if the system isn't easy to use for everyone from senior citizen patients to busy physicians, then electronic medical records (EMR) will remain more a theory than a practical solution.

Ben is chief operating officer of NIIT Healthcare Technologies, an Orlando-based firm that has developed two software packages that he says address the personal issues.

Preferr is a system that connects doctors, providers (hospitals, labs, etc.) and insurance companies, while MASH (Manage, Analyze, Sustain and Harness) is designed to share information between patients, doctors and insurance companies.

With the MASH system, patients use a customized iPad to check in at the hospital or doctor's office. They verify their personal and insurance information, and if it's correct, push a button. Outdated information can be updated and saved for future use.

The process generally takes less than two minutes, regardless of a patient's age or experience with technology. That's because people are comfortable using touchscreen technology, even more so than inputing information through a keyboard, Ben says.

As for privacy concerns, Ben notes that: “The device is just the access point. There is no data stored on the iPad.”

Doctors use a similar tablet computer to access records while consulting with a patient. In addition, the MASH taps into existing billing, online payments and scheduling systems. It can even be used to send out appointment reminders to patients.

“The system takes the patient from check-in to check-out,” says Ben, adding that administrators can use MASH to track wait and service times to improve patient satisfaction.

Ben says the software has been developed with an eye toward applying easy-to-use technology at every point in the EMR sharing process.

Although NIIT Healthcare is not the only company looking to find a solution to sharing EMRs, its software is different in two key ways. First, the software is designed to work with existing electronic records systems, meaning healthcare organizations aren't locked into a single proprietary software solution.

“What we focus on is in bridging the communication gap between disparate EMR systems in an easy, secure, seamless fashion,” says Ben. “So, our products sit on top of existing EMR systems and enable two-way communication.”

Second, both Preferr and MASH reside “in the cloud.” That is, the programs and the data each manages is hosted at a central location, not in individual doctors' offices. The software is accessed through a standard Web browser. There's no special software, hardware or mainframe to buy. Organizations pay a licensing fee and NIIT Healthcare takes care of all the technical issues.

“The idea is to have doctors focusing on providing patient care, not worrying about managing databases,” says Ben. “Working from the cloud allows us to keep costs low, and doctors can use their existing electronic records systems.”

Ben began developing Preferr in 2009, under the company name Visions@work, after spending the last decade designing software. It was his own personal experience — a weekend trip to an outpatient clinic, followed by a referral to the emergency room — that served as the motivation to quit his job, borrow money from his family and use his talents to streamline the EMR process.

“I'm sitting in the emergency room with acute stomach pains filling out the exact same paperwork I had filled out an hour earlier,” Ben says. “I was incredibly frustrated.”

Preferr began testing in Orlando Health's South Lake (County) Hospital, and at Lake-Sumter Community College. Visions@work won the 2010 William C. Schwartz Industry Innovation Award from the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. Soon after, NIIT Technologies, a global IT company based in India, purchased Visions@work and named appointed Ben as head of the company's newly created Healthcare Technologies division.

Ben continues to tweak his software and look for more markets, all while keeping remembering the genesis of his company.

“I'm not the only person frustrated by the way medical records are handled today,” says Ben. “The challenge is to find technology solutions that people will readily use.”


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