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Web architect shares experiences with Oracle Service Bus

An ESB coupled to a portal is central to a health care system upgrade. The SOA-based project runs on an Oracle Service Bus.

An ESB coupled to a portal is central to a health care system upgrade. The SOA-based project runs on an Oracle Service Bus.

Michael Sanchez is principal Web architect at Sharp Healthcare, a not-for-profit integrated regional health care delivery system that includes four acute-care hospitals, three specialty hospitals, two affiliated medical groups and a health plan, plus a full spectrum of other facilities and services.

Recently, Sharp HealthCare adopted Oracle SOA Suite and Oracle WebLogic Suite as the backbone for the mySharp patient portal, and Oracle Service Bus to integrate health record information in three disparate patient-care applications already in use in its hospitals and medical groups. These include GE Centricity Business, Allscripts Touchworks EHR and OnBase content management solutions.

Sanchez says the project kicked off officially in 2008 with C-level involvement and support. Sanchez himself was tasked with determining what would be required technically and whether to buy or build. Sanchez says the organization decided on the build approach because, so much of the healthcare organization is built around disparate, best-of-breed applications that would require unified presentation through the portal.

“At that point I knew we wanted to go the service-oriented route; we wanted it to be based on reusable things; for example for fetching patient data and billing,” he says.

In pursuit of that goal, he started looking for a framework based on service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the middleware he would need to build on top of that, he explains. Meanwhile, the database administration people at the organization were in the process of migrating to Oracle, which prompted Sanchez to look at their SOA technology.

“We did some proofs of concept and it was clear to us that Oracle was the best. Usually the more robust a product the more complex it is to interface with, however, we found Oracle was the most intuitive and the most robust,” he says. Likewise, “the technology was there.” In particular, he was glad to find Java support, which was helpful because Sharp Healthcare’s Web front end app servers are based on a ColdFusion implementation which in turn is built and based on Java, he says.

“We then created a design team for each feature that was going to be in our portal, such as lab results, medical charges, prescription refills and scheduling of appointments,” explains Sanchez.

Those teams included anybody that could be impacted by the portal initiative. That meant bringing in people from departments like operations and the laboratory and, in terms of specific functions; doctors, legal counsel and information security people.

As the project progressed, Sanchez put together a subset of people to be the primary developers; to build out and coordinate to other departments and to decide the parts they would expose to the new portal.

Sanchez says choosing the Oracle ESB was the key to getting disparate systems to work well together. “We knew those services [that we wanted to include] existed and with proxy services we could build a separate call, so that when a patient clicks on something, that proxy service could marshal the calls to different system and then combine the results back into one response.”

The ESB made it simpler: developers could “just put in one hook and get back n number of responses. It could all be compiled into one call and we knew if we were going to integrate with outside services like a drug database, we could bring that back in, too,” he says.  In addition, says Sanchez, the Oracle ESB was intuitive and easy to use. “There was a built-in management interface for proxy and business servers that made it easy to manage without a lot of need command line entries, plus a Web-based interface.

The end result has been that, through employing Oracle Service Bus and Oracle WebLogic Suite, Sharp HealthCare has been able to quickly add new back-end patient care systems to mySharp when necessary.

According to Sanchez, Sharp HealthCare plans to further expand the portal’s functionality to provide access to other systems used in its hospitals.

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