One alternative strategy: cold or hot?
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That virtually all lab information systems must be able to assemble
and print a report has long been used as a key to unlocking data that
are resistant to other strategies. In many cases, the system being
replaced does not have a built-in tool for data export. So, says Gregory
Francis of Korchek Technologies, "What we’ve done is taken standard
reports that come from the system and captured them in a flat text
file, from which we can extract the information we need."
Today, at least one vendor—Mesa Corp.—has used this simple
truth to develop a comprehensive set of data-conversion and archiving
solutions. "If the LIS that is being replaced can generate an electronic
report, it can be ‘printed’ to one of our products," says Tom Manning,
Mesa’s vice president of sales and marketing. "Our products look
just like a printer to whatever system that happens to be, and no
vendor can keep us from capturing a print stream."
Once captured in a text file, this information is keyed (that
is, indexed) in a variety of ways, Manning adds. "We extract high-speed
look-up keys—for example, patient name, medical record number,
date of birth, Social Security number, whatever the client wants—and
we provide search and display tools so the client can quickly find
information of interest, view it, and reprint it."
Mesa’s mainstream product, Archive Plus, is generally regarded
as a "cold" solution. But Manning makes a persuasive case for the
viability of Mesa’s solutions as an alternative to other, more conventional
strategies, typically used to create "hot" data-integration solutions.
"Many people try to take a copy of the old system’s database and
then figure out what each record is, how it relates to every other
record, what the fields mean, and so on—essentially trying
to grasp and replicate the logic of the entire system." By contrast,
he says, "by simply taking the report output from those old systems,
Mesa’s tools and solutions can find everything we need, with only
very occasional and manageable exceptions, such as, for example,
having to build a table to automatically translate old physician
identifiers into new identification numbers, or something like that."
What’s the catch? The only limitation Manning can imagine might
arise in the case of a data element that could not be identified
and accessed from the report output. That, in essence, is consultant
Hal Weiner’s view as well. "This approach does have some drawbacks,"
Weiner says, "as some reports do not always offer a consistent method
of identifying where a specific data element is on a page." However,
Manning reports he has not yet encountered such an element.
Cold or hot, regardless of the tools, technologies, and strategies employed,
finding the data is only part of the battle. "Once you have gotten that data
out, you still have to get it into the right format for the new system," says
Francis, "and that means cleaning up a lot of junk, delimiting that file somehow,
and solving a number of other potential problems."