Normally when information systems are built, a rigid process is set up in which a team of users lays out the project for technical pros and waits for the solution to come back.
That approach can create a fast track for results, but it can suffer from too little feedback along the way by the people expected to use the product.
Harris Methodist Health System took the opposite method in designing a managed-care information system for its HMO. Developed from scratch, the software was brought along by creating teams of information technology professionals and health plan managers that focused on key business and operational needs.
"We took away the lines that are drawn between the user and the technicals," said Larry Blevins, senior vice president and chief information officer at Harris Methodist, a Fort Worth, Texas-based system of 42 healthcare units including six acute-care hospitals. The system's effort earned the third-place Honors Award for Excellence in Healthcare Information Technology.
"In these days of rushed time lines and needing to do things cheap, fast and simple, it's fairly unusual that you can mount a facilitywide team," said Samuel Schultz of University Hospital Consortium, one of the judges.
The process kept the teams focused on function and opened the problem-solving to anyone in the organization, Mr. Blevins said. Monthly forums aired the state of the project and collected suggestions from employees who would be using the system.
As a result of doing their work in the open, team members were spared from pursuing initiatives that weren't on target, and they were able to continue building as business needs evolved, Mr. Blevins said.
The system, which recently was implemented, knits together a Windows NT-based client/server network supporting 600 work stations. Its high-speed microwave transmission handles claims processing in several remote locations, including an Austin facility 120 miles away. And it links the main facilities in Fort Worth with the HMO's headquarters about 12 miles away in Arlington.