Sonic standardises on object-oriented path

While recent merger activity created a complex business environment for Sonic Healthcare the medical diagnostics company used the opportunity to reduce IT costs by 300 per cent.

Speaking at the CIO magazine conference in Sydney today, Sonic Healthcare chief systems officer Dr Alan Lloyd said the merger allowed Sonic to benchmark its IT costs after acquiring several smaller radiology labs since the early 90s.

With more than 800 employees in Australia and major laboratories in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Auckland, Sonic produces 40,000 patient samples a day and performs more than 100,000 medical tests daily. The core of Sonic's customers are general practitioners, medical specialists and life insurance companies.

Sonic bought several smaller pathology firms during the 90s - including Douglass Labs in 1992, Hanley Moir Pathology in 1995 and the SGS Group of labs in late 1999. Its management wanted a standardised IT policy under which the company owned and controlled and automated its own IT systems including software development, infrastructure and support.

In a five-year project, Sonic has been rolling out a first-time, object-oriented laboratory information system since early 2000 - a mission-critical system controlling almost every business process.

Employees rely on the system, called Apollo, to register patients, provide the interface between the use of all medical applications, perform all client billing and electronic delivery of patient results.

Linked with a Cache database (made by database application vendor InterSystems) it replaced an IBM DB2 system called Unify.

Lloyd said the lab information system is a high-performance, object-oriented system that provides five times more processing power and uses 10 times less storage.

"An object-oriented environment is very efficient because of its rapid development time; a radiology system can be developed from concept to pilot in less than a year now," he said.

He said the company's standardisation on the Apollo platform has helped reduce its IT costs across eight major laboratories by 300 per cent. However, he was not able to quantify that reduction in dollar terms.

Lloyd said all future development on the Apollo platform will be Web-based.

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